PRINCETON — Defendant Anthony Christian Hoskins and the widow of the man he shot offered Gibson Superior Court jurors starkly different versions Tuesday of what led to the Feb. 7 shooting death of Diplomat Motel manager Steven Hess.
Jurors are expected to begin deliberation Wednesday after closing arguments in Hoskins' murder trial. The 21-year-old Oakland City man is accused of the murder of Steve Hess, co-manager of the Diplomat Motel in Oakland City, on the morning of Feb. 7 after a dispute in the motel lobby.
Hoskins testified in his own defense Tuesday evening, the last witness of the day.
Marion Hess, widow of Steve Hess, was the final prosecution witness early Tuesday afternoon.
While jurors saw motel security video clips of the encounter in the motel lobby and the shooting just outside the building, there was no audio.
Hess told jurors that her husband reported he received a complaint from a tenant about guests in another room being loud, violating the motel's no-drugs terms of the room lease.
She said she went to the room that morning, identified herself as the manager and told a woman in the room (Hoskins' sister) they were in violation of the policy and had to leave by the 11 a.m. check-out time.
She said Mark Schaefer, who rented the room, and Hoskins came to the motel office later and Hoskins "slammed" a drinking horn on the desk, loudly telling her "this is not an (expletive) bong."
"Just the way he said it was very aggressive," she testified. Hess said she pulled a hand-made club given to her for protection out, explaining it was given to her "for protection because we don't believe in guns. I never had to use it, but it was there in case I had to."
Hess said more words were exchanged and her husband, who appeared behind her, told Hoskins "No one talks to my wife like that," then ordered him three times to leave the property.
She said Hoskins was still talking to her husband and "Steve gave him a push." She said she was near her husband when Hoskins "shot at Steve once, no bullet came out and he tried again."
Hess told jurors her husband was unarmed. She said she watched him fall to the ground, while Schaefer and Hoskins were standing. "I asked if no one was calling (expletive) 911," she testified.
She said Schaefer told Hoskins to put the gun down and "he raised his hands and said 'self-defense' and I said 'that was not (expletive) self-defense'."
She told Chief Deputy Prosecutor Abigail Cox that she and her husband would have been married 29 years this spring. "He served his country," she sobbed, before defense attorney Doug Walton objected, citing relevance to the case.
On cross-examination, Walton pointed to a discrepancy in her testimony at trial and a prior deposition. "I asked you if he threatened you in any way," noting a response in her deposition that Hoskins had not threatened her.
"I live a nightmare every single day," she answered, saying she did not recognize the drinking horn produced as evidence at the trial from the morning at the motel. "I can't explain it."
She told Walton she recognized the club, also introduced as evidence. She said she pulled it out the morning of Feb. 7 because "I had two guys yelling at me," acknowledging "I held it in my hand," but did not threaten Hoskins with the club.
Hess watched the video of the events of Feb. 7 for the first time, during the trial. She confirmed that she was unaware that Hoskins and Schaefer made 911 calls, and denied hearing them tell her to apply pressure to her husband's gunshot wound.
She told Walton she did not know her husband was behind her when she pulled out the club. As she watched the video, Walton asked her if she saw Hoskins backing out the door and her husband shoving him out the door. "He didn't shove him that hard," she said.
Walton asked Hess, while viewing the video, when Hoskins pulled the trigger of his handgun the first time, and when he pulled it the second time. "There was no time between it," she said.
"Could it have been the safety you heard click?" Walton asked.
"I don't know," she said, adding, "You tell me, I was under 100 pounds. I could have the right to shoot someone?"
Schaefer testified that he rented the room for himself and Hoskins' sister while they were visiting family in Oakland City, and Hoskins stopped in that evening to visit.
He described Hoskins, who was carrying two handguns, as a person who is "a stickler for gun safety," and told jurors that no one in the room was drinking that night. They planned to celebrate Hoskins' 21st birthday on Feb. 7.
Schaefer admitted in testimony that he later learned Hoskins' sister smoked marijuana in the bathroom of the motel room that night, but he didn't know it at the time of the complaint.
He testified that a woman identifying herself as a tenant of the adjacent motel room knocked on their door and told them they were being loud and he promised to handle the issue, but said he didn't think anyone was being loud. He said he fell asleep and about 45 minutes later, Steve Hess knocked on the door and told them to "cool it with the pot, he was tired of people coming and going," reporting someone told management there was a bong in the room.
Schaefer said he left the motel room at 4 a.m. Feb. 7 to have breakfast with his father, and received a call from Hoskins' sister that Marion Hess came in the room and told them they were being evicted for violating the no-drugs terms of the room rental.
He testified that the complaint didn't make any sense to him, but he thought perhaps Hoskins' drinking horn given to him by his girlfriend was confused as a bong, so he stopped by Hoskins' apartment in Oakland City to pick him up and take the drinking horn back to the motel to resolve the matter.
"He (Hoskins) thought it was ridiculous, we were laughing about it," Schaefer testified, expecting the issue would be an easy misunderstanding to clear up.
They arrived at the motel at 7:58 a.m., according to the clock in Schaefer's mother's car, and went to the motel office door, which was locked.
Schaefer testified that he greeted Marion Hess when she unlocked the door and told her there was a misunderstanding, but "she started yelling," emphatically pointing to the lease agreement.
He said Hoskins grabbed the drinking horn out of the bag he was carrying and asked, "Does this look like a bong to you?"
Schaefer said neither he nor Hoskins shouted at Hess, but she pulled out the club and "She told Christian that he had to respect her and he needed to get the (expletive) out of there...I really don't know why it was going on and why it kept escalating," he said.
He said Hoskins "looked taken aback, frightened, surprised," and he didn't recall Hoskins talking about the club and any discussion of assault and battery.
He said Hoskins told the Hesses, when ordered to leave, "I will leave because this is your property but I can say what I want because that is my First Amendment right."
He testified that the Hesses may have told them to leave about seven times, and Steve Hess said something else, and Hoskins turned around, then Hess shoved him. "I'm surprised Christian stayed on his feet."
Schaefer said he came outside and watched the two and saw Hoskins pull the gun and say "get away or (expletive) off," before raising, then lowering the firearm a couple of times before he shot.
Schaefer said after Hoskins fired the gun, he called 911 and reported an assault victim at the Diplomat shot the person who attacked him. He said he and Hoskins' sister pleaded with Marion Hess to allow them to apply pressure to the wound. He said he also saw Hoskins call 911, then put his handguns on the ground and wait for officers to arrive.
He testified that the last time he saw Hoskins was as police led him to the back seat of a police cruiser. He testified that he believed police would question them and they would all go home.
Hoskins testified that he's been interested in weapons since he was a child, taught by his father and grandfather, a veteran and former sheriff's deputy.
He said he has a concealed carry permit for his handguns and was carrying two in February, one of them a recent birthday present.
He said when he and Schaefer arrived at the motel on the morning of Feb. 7 to sort out the eviction issue, Marion Hess was "talking over" Schaefer, and he pulled out the drinking horn and said "this is not a bong."
Hoskins testified that Hess "got very irate, talking loudly. I couldn't understand what she was saying because of the force of her speech," and told Walton he was "relatively fearful" when she showed the club to them.
At one point, shown in the video, Hoskins jumped back. He testified that he told her "that would be assault and battery."
Hoskins said he was told he was not a paying tenant and had to leave and he was on his way out but Steve Hess, who he described as very angry, advanced and "tension skyrockets."
Hoskins testified that he was opening the dor and as he went out, Hess pushed him. "It felt like getting hit by a vehicle at first," he said. "I was for sure I was going to lose balance and fall and hit my head."
He testified that his eyeglasses were knocked askew, which made him more fearful since he can't see without them. He said as Hoskins rushed toward him, he drew his weapon and told him to stand down.
He told Walton that he reached for his handgun in the back of his pants because Hess was too close for him to be able to reach the handgun carried in front. "He was way too close."
Hoskins said the handgun didn't turn back the threat. "The gun made him even more angry." He testified that Hess was looking at the gun, red veins popping in his neck. "He was really (expletive) off, shoulders hunched forward, ready to start swinging."
He testified that he might not have told him to stand down, but might have said "(Expletive) off," and as Hess advanced, he lowered the gun, "waiting in disbelief that he's still coming at me."
When Hess's foot was within inches of Hoskins' foot, and he was "100 percent sure he (Hess) was reaching for the gun," he fired. "I was scared out of my mind," he told jurors.
Hoskins testified that he wouldn't have done anything differently under those circumstances. "Other than trying to flee earlier, or I would have never gone (to the motel)."
He told jurors he didn't want to take a life, he called 911, he told Hess to apply pressure to her husband's wound, and he didn't flee from the scene but instead put his weapons on the ground.
"I assumed they (police) would be able to review the evidence and determine it was self-defense."
On cross-examination, Hoskins confirmed to Prosecutor Mike Cochren that he didn't mention his fear of slipping on the ice that morning during the police interview with Detective Sgt. Roger Ballard.
He told Cochren that he aimed for Hess's mid-section because he was less likely to miss and more likely to stop him from advancing.
When Cochren asked him if he thought he could have made it outside the door if he hadn't stopped to mention his First Amendment right to speech, he said he was starting to leave before Hess came toward him.
Hoskins testified that he fired one shot and it was the only conclusion that he could make, "to discharge the weapon to stop the aggressor."
He told jurors he couldn't read Hess's mind in the lobby because he hadn't made eye contact yet, and he only had seconds to react when Hess charged him. "I could see how close he was and feel how close he was."
He acknowledged that he was "confused as to how it escalated," noting he had worked in customer service his entire life and not experienced anything like the encounter.
Also testifying Tuesday for the prosecution were Ballard, regarding his interview with Hoskins, and the tenants who reported the noise, Joseph and Trina Flanery.