Crime News

Middlebury man pleads not guilty to knife attack

MIDDLEBURY — A Middlebury man is being held without bail after pleading innocent to charges he attempted to kill a Middlebury College student in a knife attack on College Street this past Wednesday, March 20. 

Police report that Jerry L. Hoffman, 31, of Middlebury, randomly attacked the male student and a female friend walking by Hoffman’s College Street residence at around a quarter to 8 p.m. that evening. Hoffman reportedly stabbed the man repeatedly, apparently for no clear reason. 

Police believe a combination of substance use and mental health issues were factors in the attack. 

“As far as we know there really is no motive,” Middlebury Police Detective Chris Mason told the Independent. “There’s no connection between the victim and the assailant. The assailant didn’t say anything prior to the assault or during the assault. It doesn’t appear to have been a robbery attempt. 

“We do think there probably is a substance use and a mental health component to the attack,” Mason added. 

MIDDLEBURY POLICE DETECTIVE CHRIS MASON

WEDNESDAY STABBING 

According to court documents, the victim and his companion, a guest of the student visiting for spring break, were walking back to the college from Shaw’s Supermarket on that Wednesday evening. The pair was nearing campus grounds on College Street when Hoffman approached them from behind and began stabbing the student in the back. 

“We know that the victim was stabbed four times, was pushed to the ground and was kicked repeatedly while he was on the ground,” Mason said. 

Court documents state the student yelled for help, at which point a man came out of the most proximate residence and asked what was going on. The man was identified as Hoffman’s father in the affidavit. The attack reportedly took place in front of Hoffman’s parents’ home on College Street, where he had been living since September 2023, according to court records. 

Hoffman allegedly continued attacking the student after his father came out of the home, at which point the student approached the residence, saw a snow shovel and picked it up. The student held the shovel in front of himself defensively, after which Hoffman entered the house, according to court records. 

“Immediately after that, as the assailant was going into his house, the victim and his friend fled across the green in front of the house,” Mason said, referring to the park to the west of Twilight Hall. 

The pair managed to get to a Franklin Street home, where they called 911 at 7:54 p.m. 

The woman, who made the 911 call, was uninjured, but the injured man was rushed by Middlebury Regional EMS to Porter Hospital, then transferred to UVM Medical Center. He was released from the hospital the following morning in stable condition. Information on the extent of his wounds was not made available. 

Back on College Street, Hoffman’s father also called 911 immediately after the incident, according to court records.  

At 7:51 p.m., Middlebury police arrived on the scene and found Hoffman, armed with two knives, outside his home. Police say Hoffman refused their commands to drop the weapons, and instead fled; police ran after him on foot. 

According to police, Hoffman ran toward the rear of the house and through the backyard. Police chased him down Mill Street, where he ran into Otter Creek, still armed with the knives.

Perhaps shocked by the cold water, Hoffman stopped in the creek and eventually complied with commands to drop the knives.

Police took Hoffman into custody and MREMS took him to Porter Hospital to be evaluated for exposure to the cold water. Police then took him to MPD headquarters, where they booked him. 

Seven Middlebury police officers responded to the incident and were assisted by officials from the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department, Vermont State Police, Vergennes police and the Middlebury Fire Department. 

Police charged Hoffman with attempted murder and jailed him at the Marble Valley Regional Correctional Facility without bail.

In Addison Superior Court/Criminal Division in Middlebury the next day, March 21, Hoffman pled not guilty to charges of attempted first degree murder, aggravated assault with a weapon, and resisting arrest. 

PRIOR INCIDENTS 

This is not the first time Hoffman has been arrested following a violent incident. Burlington police in June 2019 arrested Hoffman and cited him for assault, disorderly conduct and unlawful mischief after he allegedly punched three people in downtown Burlington. 

In October 2019, Hoffman was again arrested after punching strangers in downtown Burlington, according to Burlington Police.

Hoffman has also had prior run-ins with the Middlebury Police Department. 

“Middlebury police is very familiar with Hoffman,” Mason said. “Most of the officers that have been here for any length of time have had incidents, if not cases, involving Hoffman.”

The most recent incident in Middlebury took place in 2020, when Mason and another officer responded to Hoffman’s parents’ home. 

“His behavior had become somewhat erratic, and the parents were concerned,” Mason recalled. “They felt there was probably some drug use. They also felt that there was some deteriorating mental health.” 

Mason said Hoffman had smashed a sliding glass door leading from the house into a porch. 

“Myself and another officer showed up, and Jerry was standing in the kitchen holding a large knife, a chef’s knife,” Det. Mason said. 

Hoffman eventually complied with Mason’s request to put the knife down, and police took him to the hospital for treatment of wounds presumably resulting from breaking through the glass door. 

Hoffman’s father notes in court documents that his son “has had issues with drug use in the past,” pointing to suspected meth use in particular. 

Hoffman’s father referenced the 2020 incident in a written statement included in the affidavit, stating that “When he takes meth, he gets very paranoid. There was an incident back in October of 2020 when he was taking meth. There was property damage, and he was confronted by police wielding a kitchen knife. He was hospitalized after that.” 

Hoffman’s father, in his written statement, cites a handful of other incidents occurring since 2020, in which he suspected his son was using meth and was exhibiting paranoia. 

In another written statement included in the affidavit, Hoffman’s mother also references prior incidents involving her son and states, “I believe he gets violent because of drugs and mental illness.” 

She writes in the statement that “Recently we found out he’s been using meth and that has caused all sorts of hallucinations.” 

Hoffman’s parents in their written statements to police both note efforts to confront their son about his drug use. 

“My husband and I have been trying to get some help for Jerry,” Hoffman’s mother writes, noting that on the day of the knife attack she told Hoffman she didn’t feel safe with him and needed him to leave the house. “I was begging him to let us help him.” 

Hoffman’s mother also states that on the morning of the March 20 attack, she called the emergency line at the Counseling Service of Addison County to try to get help for her son. 

“I was able to get Jerry to call the hotline and they made arrangements to begin an intake next week,” she wrote. 

Defense attorney James Gratton is representing Hoffman and has requested a mental health evaluation for his client, who is being held without bail at the state prison in Rutland. 

Hoffman’s case is scheduled for a weight-of-the-evidence hearing on Thursday, March 28, at 1 p.m. in Middlebury. 

If found guilty on all three charges, Hoffman could face life in prison and thousands of dollars in fines. 

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