Hoffman found guilty of murder
A Minot woman accused of murdering her ex-boyfriend during a bitter custody dispute has been found guilty after a jury trial in North Central District Court in Minot.
The jury found Heather Hoffman guilty of one count of Class AA felony murder, which carries a maximum possible sentence of life in prison without possibility of parole.
The jury was released shortly after 11 a.m. Tuesday, and its verdict was returned around 1:30 that afternoon.
The trial of Heather Renee Faith Hoffman, 26, Minot Air Force Base, began last Wednesday, with both parties resting Monday afternoon. The trial included three days of testimony from more than 30 witnesses and concluded with the prosecution and defense presenting their closing arguments to the jury on Tuesday morning. Both parties stridently asserted they had proven their case beyond a shadow of a doubt, but the jury ultimately returned its guilty verdict after a short deliberation period, which included a break for lunch.
During closing statements, Hoffman stared impassively and scribbled on a legal pad as Ward County State’s Attorney Rozanna Larson and her defense counsel, attorney Steven Mottinger, offered dueling theories for the circumstances surrounding Alexander Eckert’s death.
Larson pointed to Hoffman’s and Eckert’s ongoing child custody conflict as Hoffman’s motive, which had been coming to a head after Eckert hired attorney Kyle Craig to represent him. Prosecutors said testimony and private messages indicated that Hoffman felt she was likely to lose full custody of their infant daughter, describing Hoffman’s behavior as manipulative and desperate to forestall any custody changes. Hoffman was accused of having contrived a child abuse complaint among other allegations against Eckert, none of which were substantiated by investigating authorities.
The alleged means for the murder was the straw purchase of a firearm by Hoffman at the Minot Gun Show shortly before the murder. The opportunity to use the weapon, as presented by the state, was made possible by a carefully constructed alibi to obscure her comings and goings from the residence she shared with her family at Minot Air Force Base.
In the weeks before the murder, prosecutors alleged, Hoffman arranged a bogus work order to provide a reason for her friend Jesse Schroeder to pick her up and return her to Minot AFB. Hoffman also signed up for Life360, a family safety location app service shortly before the murder and directed investigators to the app’s data to prove she had never left the home the night of April 21, 2022.
Larson went to great lengths to establish a timeline of the escalating events, as well as to shore up the credibility of Schroeder, who offered eyewitness testimony to Hoffman’s alleged actions that night. She concluded by attacking the timeline offered by the defense, as well as their allegation that Schroeder was the one who actually shot Eckert that night.
Defense attorney Steven Mottinger appealed to the jury during his statement, declaring that his client never left the residence, and that the state’s case relies on circumstantial evidence and speculation.
Mottinger’s case relied heavily on the testimony of Hoffman’s family members, who placed Hoffman in the home until shortly before 11 p.m. Mottinger stated his client didn’t deny filing the work order but said it was at the behest of Schroeder, who also had purchased from Hoffman the firearm established by the state’s prosecutors to be one used in Eckert’s murder. Mottinger repeatedly accused Schroeder of being the real shooter that night, a line of speculation rebuked by Larson in her rebuttal.
Hoffman’s sentencing hearing has been scheduled for Dec. 1.