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January 20, 2022

1/14/2022 1:28:00 PM
Accused of third degree murder; Hofer acquitted

A jury of 12 persons was unconvinced last Thursday  that John Hofer, 37, is a murderer.  They acquitted him on charges of third degree murder in connection with the overdose death of a 51-year-old male,  who perished while in the custody of Chisago County last July.  

The prosecution’s case was based on the premise that Hofer had provided  methamphetamine to Erik Nielsen. Neilsen they maintained, then hid this meth in a sock or shoe, which he ingested while riding in a county squad car as he was being taken to Center City.  Videotape of the inside of the squad showed Nielsen hunched over as he probably removed something from a sock or shoe, consuming it.

Law enforcement explained that the suspect is searched for weapons or items that can be used as weapons but a full body search for an item like a miniature plastic baggie wouldn’t happen until arrival at jail processing.   

Hofer, living in an RV inside of a pole barn outside of Harris, near where Nielsen was pulled over, was arrested as the alleged supplier of the fatal amount of meth.  Authorities executed a search warrant at the parcel where Hofer resided on Aug 5 and multiple charges and arrests resulted.

Defense attorney Travis Kowitz created doubt in the jury.  He said the prosecution had not proved that Hofer sold the product to Nielsen or even if he did, it may not have been that specific quantity that proved fatal.  

The defense focused attention on the hours that passed between a cellphone text referencing a drug deal between Hofer and Nielsen and the victim’s death.
Kowitz suggested the mere fact there’d been a shared text at 8 p.m. and by the wee hours of that next morning— Nielsen perished, was not enough to link Hofer to  what killed Nielsen.

Kowitz said it is the investigators’ responsibility to rule out other possibilities and this was not done. He said the authorities didn’t research other texts and calls found on the victim’s phone. and did not go to where Nielsen lived to interview acquaintances and learn if he had access to other sources of drugs.

In fact, before the jury came in the courtroom after lunch recess and for final attorney statements, Kowitz submitted a motion asking the judge to not send this case to the jury.  He argued Judge Seabrook should acquit Hofer because “something else could have happened” calling it the ‘rational hypothesis review standard.’”

In the hours between when the victim left Hofer’s residence and when he was picked up on a warrant while driving between  Harris and North Branch, “...we don’t know where he went, what he did and the (medical examiner) can’t determine where the (fatally ingested)meth came from.”
Kowitz argued the case against Hofer was circumstantial at best.

Judge Seabrook denied this defense motion.

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