Trial Begins for Niki Hochstetler

Niki Hochstetler

After a lengthy selection process, a jury of 12 citizens and one alternate juror was chosen in the case of Niki Hochstetler, charged with two counts of Battery with a Deadly Weapon, and one count of Criminal Mischief after allegedly stabbing Eric Amore at the Country Roads Bar and Grill in Walkerton last July. The defense had requested a motion to limit, requesting that witnesses be questioned outside of the presence of the jury to ensure that what the witnesses say is acceptable before the jury, but this request was denied by Judge Kim Hall in the Starke Circuit Court.

Both Defense Attorney Martin Bedrock and Prosecutor Ryan Bratcher presented their opening statements to the jury. Bratcher told the jury that on the night of July 9, 2010, Eric Amore went to the Country Roads Bar and Grill with a female friend. When he entered, he saw several people he knows and began making his rounds, socializing and greeting, and noticed the defendant, Hochstetler, at the bar as well, but ignored her. At this time, Bratcher said that Hochstetler then took Amore’s friend into the bathroom, and when she returned, Hochstetler began getting loud and boisterous, saying mean things and insulting Amore from across the bar. Amore ignored her, but Hochstetler then came up behind him, striking him in the back. When Amore turned to his right, he felt a “punch” on his right side, but soon realized he was bleeding and had been stabbed. The police and an ambulance were then called, but Hochstetler had left the scene by the time they arrived. No weapon was recovered from the scene, and when Amore went outside to have his wound looked at, he noticed his Harley Davidson motorcycle had been scratched.

Bedrock told the jury that Hochstetler had gone to the bar to meet two of her friends and eat dinner, and when they arrived the defendant was already present, and they noticed two people they know that had been seated near Amore. Hochstetler and her friends approached the people they recognized and began talking to them, at which point Amore began making insults at Hochstetler and got out of his chair and “got in her face,” so Hochstetler pushed him away. The situation escalated from this point, and his insults got more aggravated, so Hochstetler punched him. Hochstetler often wears rings, which could have caused the wound on Amore’s side. Bedrock reminded the jury that Amore said he was punched, and not stabbed. The defendant then left and went to her friends’ house, never touching the motorcycle.

The state then called its first witness, Eric Amore, to the stand. Amore told the jury that he does know the defendant, and is related to her: she is his distant cousin. Amore said that he went to the bar at around 10:30 PM with a female acquaintance and began socializing with several people he recognized. His acquaintance went into the restroom with Hochstetler, and when she returned a few minutes later, they sat down at the bar and ordered drinks, at which point the defendant began getting very loud and hostile, calling him a woman beater and being boisterous, announcing these insults from across the bar. He said that she then got behind him, struck him in the back, then punched him a second time in the right side. She then left, and he felt a trickling down his side. When he lifted his shirt, he noticed a “big gash,” and blood dripping down his side.

The state presented five exhibits: three pictures of the wound on his side taken by the police officer on the scene, and two pictures of blood on the floor of the bar. When the wound was examined by EMTs, he refused transport to the hospital because he did not have insurance to cover the expenses. Amore said that when he was struck in the ribs, it felt like a punch, but later felt “excruciating pain,” and the wound swelled up. The state then presented pictures of the damage on the motorcycle: deep scrapes on the gas tank.

During cross-examination, Amore said that his wound had been cleaned and bandaged by the ambulance personnel, but he did not receive stitches. Bedrock presented the EMT’s report, which indicated that the patient did not have any complaints of pain. When asked if he saw who scratched his bike, Amore indicated that he had not.

The jury presented a question asking if the shirt that Amore had been wearing had any holes in it after the incident, and Amore indicated that the shirt was damp from blood and had two holes in it in the area where he was “punched,” near the right shoulder and his right side.

The state then called officer Todd Keen to the stand. Keen had been dispatched to the Country Roads Bar and Grill at around 10 PM for a possible stabbing, and said that he saw Amore outside the bar when he arrived, holding a towel to his side. Keen told the jury that he was the officer who had taken the photos at the scene, but had never recovered a weapon and did not take the shirt as evidence. He did not see Hochstetler at the scene, but later arrested her after locating her. During cross-examination, Keen said that people do get cuts in fights without a weapon, but this wound was not consistent with a punch to the side, and is consistent with a sharp weapon, not a ring. Keen also said that Amore told him that he first thought he was punched, but later said he was stabbed.

Justin King of the Starke County EMS was then called to the stand by the state. King has been employed over three years with the EMS, and was dispatched to the scene the night of the incident for a possible stabbing. King indicated that he had assessed the victim and saw no respiratory issues, though the victim had a laceration to the right side of his chest with minimal bleeding. King described the wound as superficial, and cleaned and dressed the wound. He then left. King was unable to measure the depth of the wound.

During cross-examination, King indicated that Amore did not have any complaints of pain, and the depth of the wound should have been greater if a sharp object had been used when Amore was struck, but he did not measure its depth. When asked by the jury, King said that he did not treat any wound on Amore’s back.

The prosecution then called Brock Radtke, service manager of Kersting’s Cycle Center, to the stand. Radtke identified the photos of the damage done to the motorcycle and said that because the damage was done on the emblem, repairing the damage is almost impossible because of the difficulty of matching the emblem’s design. He estimated the cost to replace the gas tank to be around $1100 with an additional $130 in labor, and identified the state’s exhibit I as a paper detailing the cost of a new tank at $1108.65. During cross examination, Radtke said that he has not seen the damage in person, but has seen the bike prior to the damage. Radtke said that, after looking at the pictures, the scratches appear deep and would require a weapon; this kind of damage does not occur from the bike falling over, for example. He also said that these scratches were not on the bike during previous service visits. The state then rested.

The defense called its first witness, Leslie Bloom, to the stand. Bloom is a friend of Hochstetlers, and the evening of the incident, went to Country Roads Bar and Grill for dinner. She said that she arrived around 7 PM with her sister, and called Hochstetler to join them. She said she was not sure if she called Hochstetler before going to the bar, and said that she was not sure if Amore was already at the bar or not. Bloom said that she thinks they were only at the bar for around an hour and a half, and said that she recognized several people at the bar, and didn’t recall Hochstetler taking any female into the bathroom with her. She said that she first noticed Amore when he started cussing at Hochstetler, and he jumped out of his stool and “got in her face,” calling her names and insulting her. Bloom said that Hochstetler then pushed Amore away, and did not have anything in her hands. After she pushed him away, they then left and went to Bloom’s residence, and they never saw a motorcycle, and Bloom never saw Hochstetler key or damage a motorcycle.

Upon cross-examination, Bloom said she saw Hochstetler push Amore, but she did not punch him. Bloom said that she was unsure whether she had a closed hand or an open hand when she pushed Amore. Bloom also said that Hochstetler had no purse with her at the time, and said that Amore lifted his shirt after Hochstetler pushed him and he said he was bleeding, but Bloom saw no laceration and only a spot of blood.

The trial will continue this morning at 9 AM in the Starke Circuit Court, and it is expected to go to jury decision before noon.