Prosecution Presents Closing Arguments in Hoskins Murder Trial

murder[1]By Haroutun Bejanyan and Tiffany Yeh

On October 14, the People called up their final witness, the victim’s son, to testify against his stepmother Susan Hoskins, who had killed his father Bryan Hoskins.

The victim’s son, now in his 30s, had lived with both Bryan and Susan Hoskins for six months while in middle school. He recounted that his father and stepmother’s relationship was definitely a volatile one, with rocky ups and downs.

Prior to his testimony and the jury’s presence, the council discussed that Susan had allegedly been slipping Bryan drugs unbeknownst to him, which may have caused him to apparently grow shorter over time. Later, when the jury was fully assembled in the courtroom for the witness’s testimony, the prosecution brought up a question about Bryan’s height.

The witness replied that his father Bryan had indeed gotten shorter over the years, as they used to be able to see each other at an eye-to-eye level in years prior. However, during the testimony, the prosecution made no mention of Susan’s alleged slipping of drugs.

The testimony proceeded into the witness’ assessment of his late father’s personality and character. He remembered his father as an easy-going guy who loved to play practical jokes, and said that he would not characterize his father as intimidating. He recollected that, since he was a child, his father did his best to impart values of honesty, respect and the safe management of money.

Although the witness claimed that Bryan had always loved Susan without a doubt, the witness had at one point attempted to convince his father over the phone to leave Susan and move in with him and his family. In addition to loving her immensely, Bryan had been very supportive of Susan, taking out a loan to purchase a condo nearby since her parents were in failing health.

The witness became aware of his father’s drinking problem at the age of 5, when he had called 911 on two separate occasions because Bryan was critically intoxicated and appeared incapacitated. Contrary to what Susan had testified regarding Bryan’s behavior while drunk, his son stated that Bryan was an ‘I love you’ type of drunk who became quiet, introspective, sentimental, and at times even cried about issues in his life.

According to the witness, Bryan never ranted or acted aggressively while he was drunk. Instead, he would just mellow down, eventually passing out.

The frequency and quantity of Bryan’s drinking was, however, a concern to his son, who often encouraged him to seek help through Alcoholics Anonymous.

After wrapping up the subject of Bryan’s drinking, the prosecution moved to address the next critical topic, Bryan’s guns. Bryan owned a total of 14 guns, consisting of an assortment of long rifles, shotguns, and handguns.

The long rifles were all acquired from Bryan’s father after he had passed away of old age. Bryan himself purchased the handguns for use as a probation officer after his son had advised him to buy them, since, as a sheriff’s sergeant, the son used the same type of handguns for their durability and reliability. All the guns were always kept locked in the gun safe.

The witness observed his father acting passively during arguments with Susan, simply replying with, “Yes dear,” to everything she said. Regarding Susan’s behavior during interactions with Bryan, the witness recalled, from what he had seen while in their presence, that she was hostile and demeaning towards his father.

Susan often belittled and humiliated Bryan over mundane things, nitpicking until it became uncomfortable to witness. Susan had never mentioned anything about abuse by Bryan to the witness. In the days leading up to the fatal incident, the witness said he perceived his father to be in a good mood and overall upbeat about life.

When it was defense attorney Tony Serra’s turn to cross-examine, Mr. Serra immediately made a point to establish the narrow time frame from which the witness recalled his observations, six months of living with his father and the occasional visits thereafter.

Serra then asked if Bryan hid his alcoholism from the witness as much as he could, to which the witness responded, “No.” The witness elaborated on this point, stating that his father’s alcohol problems were worse earlier, as he began working at the probation office later in his life so was drinking less.

Serra advanced to address another limitation to the witness’s testimony. The witness admitted that, although he had observed much of his father’s binge drinking, he had not been there for most or all of it. This gave reason for Serra to ascertain that the witness may not have seen a complete picture of his father’s behavior when highly inebriated.

Moving on to the topic of Bryan’s apparent height shrinkage, Serra stated that Bryan’s 2012-2013 driver’s license specified he was 240 pounds with a height of 6 foot 1. The witness declared that it was self-reported and not absolutely accurate. When asked by Serra, “How do you know he got shorter?” the witness merely restated his previous testimony. “We used to see eye-to-eye, but towards the end of his life, he was almost shorter by a head.”

Serra countered with an alternate explanation, stating that the witness grew taller over the years, to which he responded that it was in his adulthood when he had stopped growing that they were both close to the same height.

At the time of his demise Bryan’s blood alcohol level was measured to be at a .56, the level at which he drove his motorcycle shortly before his death. On several other occasions, the witness had been aware that his father was driving while intoxicated.

Serra confronted this aspect when he indicated that the witness, as a sheriff’s sergeant, had arrested people in the past for DUIs and conducted sobriety tests, but somehow managed to overlook and neglect his own father’s intoxicated driving.

In the previous testimony, the witness said that the worst time of the year for his father’s drinking was during the holidays. Serra probed further into this statement to see if the ”holidays” were only limited to the Christmas season or extended to include the 4th of July and the ensuing weeks leading up to the incident on August 3, 2014.

However, although the witness described his father as a patriotic man who enjoyed the traditional American holidays, particularly Thanksgiving and Christmas, thus drinking during those periods, he subsequently denied that the 4th of July was a holiday during which his father drank to a similar extent.

Closing Arguments

People v. Hoskins began its afternoon session with the victim’s son resuming his testimony, and ended with a dramatic and detailed closing statement by the prosecution.

The son described being spanked by his father, by hand on his rear, about ten times in his life. The last time he was spanked, he was in elementary school.

He recounted one time he was spanked, almost with nostalgia. He was with his father at the store and was caught shoplifting. His father switched to grounding him when he was five years old.

When asked if he was ever abused by his father, he replied that he hadn’t ever been.

When Mr. and Mrs. Hoskins split up, the son was one and a half years old. Later, he had never seen his father fight or lay his hands on anyone in his entire life.

The arguments that occurred between Susan Hoskins and his father were normal arguments. His father’s drinking was a point of conflict between the couple.

He described his father as an urban drinker, naming beer as one of his preferred drinks. Vodka was not among the short list of drinks his father drank often.

He recalled, during his childhood, his father driving while intoxicated and driving while drunk other times, while the boy was in the car. He described his father as “reserved” when drunk. He was aware that his father would wander off, and be gone for days sometimes.

Defense questioned words by the victim’s son about “all children fearing their fathers.” He then backtracked a bit and framed it as not wanting to disappoint his father.

He made an impassioned speech about his father’s character, describing him as a “decent person” with a “problem with alcohol.” He’s not the “monster they perceived” him to be.

The victim’s son said that his father overall embodied honesty, professionalism and integrity, among other characteristics, and that he “instilled that in others” and had high standards. He learned a lot from his father.

He stated that his father was “not a bad man, not a violent man, not an evil man,” and had a huge heart. He recounted after Bryan Hoskins  had a heart attack, the doctor said he had an enlarged heart. Susan replied, saying that she knew he had an enlarged heart because he had a huge heart.

When the son was asked about Susan Hoskins and whether he knew her to be a compassionate person, he paused for a long moment. He then said that she is a compassionate person. He went on to say later in his testimony, “She was decent and good to me.”

However, when asked about Susan Hoskins being a nurse and possibly threatening his father, he recounted details. After telling Bryan Hoskins that she could give him pills that would kill him, she gave a sneaky smile.

Asked about whether the son saw the gun in the kitchen drawer, he said he hadn’t when he had been at the house in August 2013 after renovations had been finished.

After Bryan Hoskins’ death, the son did see shotgun shells on top of the buffet table, which was the table with the drawers.

Jury instructions included definitions of “overt act,” types of homicide (including lawful homicide and unlawful homicide) and voluntary manslaughter. Expressed malice was contrasted with implied malice. Provocation by the defendant can make 1st degree decrease into 2nd degree murder.

Sufficient provocation can be a short or long period of time.

The defendant is allowed to stand her ground and pursue her assailant (even if fleeing can ensure safety) if she believes she’s in danger.

Imperfect self-defense is defined as having at least one of the considerations be wrong (for example, not being immediate danger.) If it’s perfect self-defense, then she should be charged as not guilty.

Deputy District Attorney Carolyn Palumbo made the closing argument for the prosecution, with a dramatic, detailed presentation that included hand gestures and the occasional expletive.

She emphasized that sympathy shouldn’t influence the jury’s decision. Also, punishment should not be considered.

DDA Palumbo asserted that Mr. Hoskins had caused Susan Hoskins emotional abuse, including name calling, but no sexual abuse. Essentially, he was not likable to some people, while she was likable, but he did not inflict sexual abuse or domestic violence.

She stated that Susan provided no assistance as he called for help, after she shot him. A small portion of the 911 tape was played, with the dispatcher asking why she shot him.

She answered, “Because he is an a— and kept calling me a whore.” The above line was played at least 3 or 4 times during the closing argument.

The DDA stated that Susan Hoskins had not shown fear or remorse and had not been in imminent danger. She was frustrated with Bryan Hoskins’ drinking and his accusing her of cheating.

When asked during an interview if she had intended to kill her husband, she replied, “I don’t know.”

The DDA went over the elements of murder from CalCrim (California Criminal Jury Instructions) sections 520 et seq. Susan Hoskins’ fingerprints and DNA were found on the trigger, thus, she committed the act that caused death of Hoskins.

Secondly, when she acted, she had the requisite state of mind, malice aforethought. Either expressed malice (intention) or implied malice is enough to prove the state of mind criteria.

Expressed malice was shown because Susan Hoskins knew the act was dangerous to human life – shooting someone was dangerous.

During an interview, she stated that she “aimed upper left so I probably hit upper left,” referring to Bryan Hoskins’ wound. DDA Palumbo described her as going to the shooting range, and her being on target with the .22.

Susan Hoskins was approximately eleven feet away from Bryan Hoskins when she held the gun, provoked him, and then he puffed up and told her to shoot him.

DDA Palumbo described Susan Hoskins’ intent to kill with quotes from the defendant: “I’ve thought about it often,”“I have had many plans,” and “I have said to so many people that if Bryan ever disappeared, there would be no, no questions because I have threatened him so often.”

In one of the statements above, the defendant also described the possible idea of having the victim buried in a desert in Nevada. She could threaten to overdose him with pills.

Implied malice can be shown with the prosecution’s assertion that the defendant intentionally committed an act. The natural and probable consequences of the act were dangerous to human life. At the time she acted, she knew this act was dangerous to human life. Further, she used a gun with small-gauge bullets, with which she is adept at hitting her target in practice, and as a nurse, she understands anatomy.

Essentially, she showed a knowledgeable and conscious disregard for human life.

The only justification is self-defense or defense of others. DDA Palumbo argued that Susan Hoskins was not in danger of imminent death or great bodily injury.

Recordings of interviews with Susan Hoskins were played: “He was standing there doing shoot me, shoot me, shoot me…” “He gave me s– at the front door, I walked in and pulled the gun and he gave me this go ahead, shoot me, shoot me, shoot me.”

DDA Palumbo said that he wasn’t coming at her and that there was no evidence of imminent danger at the scene. No knives were on the counter, no other guns in the house, and there was no evidence of a struggle.

There was a distance of eleven feet between the victim and Susan Hoskins. The victim was by the stove, in a corner, while she was at the buffet table and provoked him by holding the gun out.

When she called her son, Kyle, and he asked “…was it [self] defense?” Susan Hoskins replied, “I don’t know anything yet.” To her brother, she stated, “The evidence that I have that I’ve called people… doesn’t choose to pursue.”

Another recording had the defendant saying, in a quiet voice, “I just want him to shut up,”“… he’s a verbal drunk, and he’s an intimidating drunk,” and “I didn’t care to kill him…”

DDA Palumbo stated that Bryan Hoskins was verbally abusive and emotionally abusive at times. The defendant didn’t tell either retained expert that he was acting any differently that he had in past.

Self-defense can’t be contrived. The DDA argued that it was premeditated murder.

After August 4, 2014, Susan Hoskins told someone that she missed and shot Bryan in chest – she had the gun in her hand first, then the victim puffed up. On August 14, 2014, she told another person that she was not a victim of sexual abuse.

DDA Palumbo then went through what she called Susan Hoskins’ fabrication of evidence to make it seem that she was a victim of domestic violence.

The defendant wrote a letter planning out fabricated evidence of rectal bleeding.

From August 14, 2014, to December 17, 2014, many people were contacted, conversations occurred, and texts were sent in attempts by Susan Hoskins to save herself.

Her son committed a felony transfer of money, and an exchange of $5000 to someone. All of this occurred so she could get a lesser charge of manslaughter.

On December 17, 2014, the conspiracy was discovered, and the defendant was moved to Sutter County Jail.

The credibility of defense witness Dr. Linda Bernard was heavily questioned by DDA Palumbo. Dr. Bernard acquired an overall context of the relationship from the defendant, three or four neighbors, diaries, and Susan Hoskins’ co-workers. Bryan’s son and friends weren’t contacted, though.

Susan met with Dr. Bernard on two separate days. Ninety to 95 percent of the people Dr. Bernard tests are victims of intimate partner battering; she has testified both for defense and for prosecution side before. According to Ms. Palumbo, Dr. Bernard’s definition of intimate partner battering is very wide.

Ms. Palumbo made the argument that what’s lost here is that the victim is really Bryan Hoskins. Intimate Partner Battering and its effects do not apply to this case – there was no isolation, she has a support system, there was no economic abuse, and he didn’t threaten suicide or to kill her.

Ms. Palumbo stated that there was no male privilege. They made joint decisions, got separate bank accounts and made a joint decision to rent a place. She decided when she asked him to leave, she decided when he would come back.

DDA Palumbo questioned the yes/no Danger Assessment Static Test, on which Mr. Hoskins got 25 points.

There was no evidence that physical violence increased over past years. He owned guns, but they were locked guns in a safe, across the street.

They separated and lived across the street from each other in separate places. He had never used a weapon against her, yet she has used a weapon against him. She has two children, not hers, but they are grown and out of house.

In general, the victim did not tell the defendant who she could be friends with, how much money to use or when she could take the car. He wasn’t violently and constantly jealous of her.

Ms. Palumbo questioned Susan Hoskins’ credibility, as she has been caught in two lies. The DDA then went on to pick apart every witness that the defense presented.

The overall theme that DDA Palumbo presented was that Bryan Hoskins is the real victim here, not Susan Hoskins. Yes, emotional abuse in the form of name calling has occurred but sexual abuse has not. She argued that Susan Hoskins was not in imminent danger or in fear of great bodily harm – not on that night and not during the days she was with Bryan Hoskins.

About The Author

The Vanguard Court Watch operates in Yolo, Sacramento and Sacramento Counties with a mission to monitor and report on court cases. Anyone interested in interning at the Courthouse or volunteering to monitor cases should contact the Vanguard at info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org - please email info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org if you find inaccuracies in this report.

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