Prosecutor: Fight that killed teen lasted 2 minutes

By Heather Leigh, Mobile journalist, hleigh@wjxt.com
Published On: Aug 19 2014 09:18:50 AM EDT
Updated On: Aug 19 2014 11:08:06 PM EDT

It's been an emotional first day of testimony for 26-year-old Christopher Hoffman. He's the man accused of beating a 19-year-old to death at a bonfire party last year. According to police, a series of fights broke out at the party. Prosecutors say Hoffman punched Ryan Ford while he was already down, causing his death. Channel 4's Heather Leigh was inside the courtroom today.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -

A six-member jury on Tuesday began hearing the case against 26-year-old Christopher Hoffman, who is charged with second-degree murder in the death of 19-year-old Ryan Ford during a fight at a bonfire in January 2013.

According to police, a series of fights broke out at a party on private property off Old St. Augustine Road. Investigators said Hoffman punched Ford while he was already down and caused his death.

With family and friends of both Hoffman and Ford filling seats of the courtroom, Judge Charles Arnold warned them the next few days would be filled with emotional testimony and evidence that would be tough for them to hear and see.

In his opening statement, Assistant State Attorney Brian Brady told jurors the fight that led Ford's death only lasted about two minutes.

"As 19-year-old Ryan Ford stood in the woods at a bonfire party, staring Robert Clein in the face, (Hoffman) charged over and hits Ryan on the left side of his face, taking him to the ground," Brady said.

The defense countered that since multiple people hit Ford -- so there is no way the state can prove Hoffman threw the fatal punch.

"There's not a person on the planet that could tell you which one of these impacts caused the death of Ryan Ford. But with all that, the state attorney's office wants you to believe -- yell it -- this man over here, he did it," said James Hill, Hoffman's attorney.

The prosecution's first witness, Ford's sister, testified that at one point three people were on top of the victim, and Hoffman was the only one she could identify.

"He was purple," Kristi Ford said of her brother (pictured in family photo).

"I was like, 'What are you doing? That's my little brother,'" said Kristi Ford, referring to her brother (pictured in family photo). "He just looked at me dead in the face; no remorse; no signs of anything. Just looked at me straight in the face, turned around and kept hitting him."

Starla Sleap, who said she went to the party that night with Hoffman's girlfriend, testified that she was on Hoffman's back trying try to get him to stop beating Ryan Ford when Hoffman turned and punched her.

"I hit him a couple of times. I tried to pull him off of him and that's when he hit me," Sleap said.

Robert Clein -- who was charged with battery after the fight -- has admitted to shoving, then punching Ford before Hoffman joined the fight. Called as a prosecution witness, Clein testified that when he asked Hoffman on the phone after the party if he hit Ford, "He didn't answer me; he just started laughing."

FDLE crime scene analyst Sukhan Warf testified that Hoffman's hands were tested for DNA, and his left and right hand tested positive for DNA from himself and a second person, but not that of Ryan Ford.

Prosecutors were expected to continue presenting their case when court resumes at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday.