A North Dakota jury only needed two hours Tuesday to find a woman guilty of felony murder after the father of her child was found shot through his brainstem at his home amid a custody dispute.
The jury was persuaded by prosecutors in the Ward County State’s Attorney’s Office who said that Heather Renee Faith Hoffman, 26, was “desperate” during a child support dispute and wanted 22-year-old Alex Eckert dead. Prosecutors said she bragged about that openly at work — even saying that she could simply claim self-defense.
“I would submit to you, ladies and gentlemen, that this was murder, beyond a reasonable doubt. This was [the defendant’s] plan. You saw the escalation. She was getting more desperate, more desperate. She was saying it at work, ‘Be better off if he’s gone, better off if he’s dead. I can say that it was self-defense,'” State’s Attorney Roza Larson said, according to the NBC and Fox affiliated local station KMOT.
In the lead-up to trial, prosecutors reportedly said that Eckert was found after midnight on April 21, 2022, shot in the face in the doorway of his Minot residence. The timing of the slaying was notable, as a judge had “recently ordered Hoffman to stop restricting Eckert’s access to his child and it upset Hoffman,” a probable cause affidavit detailed, The Dakotan reported.
Prosecutors alleged that there was evidence Hoffman explored buying plane tickets for two: herself and her infant daughter — Eckert’s child. The state further alleged that Hoffman attempted to shore up an alibi before the murder by downloading the family tracking app Life360. The defendant later offered up that the app’s data as ostensible proof that she couldn’t have been at the murder scene.
At the scene of the crime, cops found a shell casing for a .45 caliber round. Investigators also found a .45 caliber firearm around a block away — and authorities concluded that was the same gun Hoffman bought at gun show in Minot weeks before the shooting.
While prosecutors reportedly hammered away at the argument that Hoffman had every motive to kill, citing her own words, the defense floated an alternate suspect — the prosecution’s star witness — claiming Hoffman “was not in the vicinity when the shot was fired” but was instead at her sister’s residence.
“It is our belief that Jessie Schroeder is responsible for Alex’s death,” defense attorney Steven Mottinger reportedly said, pointing to the testimony given by Hoffman’s sister, brother-in-law, and mother.
Hoffman’s mother testified that she witnessed her daughter sell the firearm at the center of the case to Schroeder weeks before the shooting, the Minot Daily News reported.
Jessie Schroeder, Hoffman’s former friend and co-worker, had told police that he was standing near Hoffman when the two went to the victim’s residence the night Eckert was shot to death.
When Eckert answered the door, he said “[we’re] not going to do this now,” according to the witness.
“Does it look like I’m joking?” Hoffman said, before a “loud pop” went off, according to Schroeder’s statement to police.
After the two left the scene, Schroeder reportedly claimed, he hid Hoffman in the backseat of a car with tinted windows and took her to Minot Air Force Base, where she lived, without informing base security that she was in the car.
At trial, Schroeder testified Hoffman “mentioned she wanted [Eckert] dead.”
The defense attempted to poke holes in the timeline provided by the witness, asserting “[i]t doesn’t make any sense,” but in the end, the jury decided the state’s case was sufficient to convict.
The state presented evidence that Eckert was shot through his brainstem from below at a 45-degree angle, bolstering the allegation that he must have been shot by someone shorter than him, the Minot Daily News reported.
Hoffman, a cross tattoo visible on her back, shook her head as she was led out of the courtroom in handcuffs.
Hoffman now faces the prospect of living out the rest of her days in prison.
North Dakota law says that AA felony murder is committed when a person “intentionally or knowingly causes the death of another human being.” The maximum punishment is life without parole, but a judge “must designate whether the life imprisonment sentence imposed is with or without an opportunity for parole.”
Judge Gary Lee has reportedly ordered a pre-sentence investigation, which will presumably help inform his eventual sentencing decision.
Notably, if the sentence is life without parole, Hoffman “shall not be eligible to have” her sentence reviewed by the “parole board for thirty years, less sentence reduction earned for good conduct, after [her] admission to the penitentiary.”
Judge Lee set sentencing for 9:30 a.m. on Dec. 1, court records reviewed by Law&Crime show.
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