Maine Supreme Court denies appeal of school gunman

By Tanya Mitchell | Nov 27, 2012
Photo by: Tanya Mitchell Randall Hofland enters the Waldo County Superior Court in Belfast for his sentencing hearing in Belfast in March 2011.

Portland — This week the Maine Supreme Court has rejected the appeal of a Searsport man who is currently serving a 35-year sentence for taking a fifth-grade class hostage at a local elementary school four years ago.

The high court issued its decision rejecting all claims from 59-year-old Randall Hofland of Searsport Tuesday, Nov. 20.

In his appeal, Hofland argued that he was denied the right to a speedy trial and the right to represent himself. During his trial, Hofland served as his own lead defense attorney, but the court appointed attorney Jeffrey Toothaker to assist Hofland throughout the trial. Hofland also claimed in his appeal that Justice Jeffrey Hjelm's decision to sentence him to consecutive rather than concurrent sentences was illegal.

Following a month-long trial in January 2011, a jury found Hofland guilty on 39 of 40 charges he faced for taking 11 fifth-graders hostage at gunpoint at Stockton Springs Elementary School Oct. 31, 2008. The bulk of those charges were kidnapping, criminal restraint with a dangerous weapon and criminal threatening with a dangerous weapon, all of which stemmed from his entering the school, brandishing a handgun and taking the children hostage.

Hofland was found not guilty on one charge of criminal threatening with a dangerous weapon, which involved former Searsport Police Officer Jessica Danielson. Hofland was accused of pointing a gun at Danielson at a safety checkpoint Oct. 23, 2008, a charge he denied throughout the trial and sought to cast doubt on.

Hofland appeared at the elementary school after he spent eight days on the run from police.

During his trial, Hofland testified that a government conspiracy was to blame for his actions at the Oct. 23 roadblock and during the incident at the school Oct. 31. Hofland also blamed the incidents on problems connected to his divorce and losing custody of his children, as well as on Danielson for accusing him of threatening her with a handgun at the roadblock before Hofland left his vehicle and ran into the woods off Route 1.

Also at his trial, Hofland testified that the children he took hostage were suffering emotionally as a result of their encounter with him because the adults in their lives lied to them about the events that occurred at the school on that day.

Hjelm cited the magnitude of Hofland's actions, as well as the impact on the victims when he sentenced Hofland at a hearing at Waldo County Superior Court in Belfast in March 2011. Hjelm added that Hofland could have chosen to end the ordeal at any time, as Hofland had several opportunities to leave the school prior to the hostage event, but he chose not to do so.

“The purpose for Mr. Hofland going into that school, generally, and into the classroom, more specifically, was to allow Mr. Hofland to draw more attention to himself,” said Hjelm. “He thought he could be safe.”

In doing that, Hjelm continued, Hofland exposed all the children involved to potential serious injury or death. Hofland also changed the way those children would view the school atmosphere as they grew, Hjelm said.

“A classroom is a place of safety and security, every bit as much as a student’s home should be a place of safety and security,” said Hjelm.

William Dakin stood before the court at Hofland's sentencing and struggled to complete his emotional account of how Hofland’s decision to enter Stockton Springs Elementary School was still having an adverse impact on his child.

“It’s changed his life forever,” said Dakin, his voice cracking, as he wiped tears from his eyes. “He didn’t want to go trick-or-treating on Halloween night… When he got home that day, he wouldn’t even tell us what happened.”

At times during his sentencing, Hofland appeared to be sorry for what had happened at the school, but he quickly added a reason for his actions to his apologetic words.

“I am terribly sorry that I even thought to do that… I certainly know why I did it, I was shining a bright spotlight onto all the wrong that I knew existed,” he said at that time.

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