Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Update on my book, FAMILY AFFAIRS, twenty years later

I can’t believe it, but is has been 20 years since my first true-crime book, Family Affairs, was published by Pocket  Book/Simon & Schuster. The book details the killing and subsequent trials of one of the most high-profile criminal cases in the history of Johnson County, Ks.
The book, released nationally in May 1992, explores the murder of 13-year-old Christian Hobson. The teenager, from Overland Park, Ks., was killed by his 17-year-old stepbrother, James Crumm, and Crumm’s friend, Paul Sorrentino, also 17.
The Crumm and Sorrentino, who attended Shawnee Mission South High School at the time of the murder, drove Christian to an isolated location near Hillsdale Lake in Miami County where he was forced to dig his own grave in the middle of the night before being shot and killed.
The teenagers were following the instructions of Crumm’s mother, Sueanne Hobson, who masterminded the killing because she simply didn’t like Chris.
The murdered boy’s father, Ed Hobson, initially divorced Sueanne shortly after the killing, but remarried her before her trial. He subsequently divorced her again while she was in prison, but again remarried her a few years later while still in prison. He remains married to her today.
During the case, Hobson adamantly defended his wife’s innocence and often wore a T-shirt to the Johnson County Courthouse that said: They promised me justice. I promise them revenge.
He emotionally testified on her behalf at her trial.
Sueanne, who is now 68 years old, was released from prison in February 2011 after serving 31 years for the killing. She is living in her childhood home in Prairie Village with Ed.
At the time of her release, several residents in the quiet residential nieghborhood voiced their disapproval. Not only were some residents upset that Sueanne was being released from prison, they were also upset that she and Ed were moving back into the family home.
Sueanne had been denied for parole eight times before finally being released. Ed repeatedly begged for her release during several of those parole hearings.
Sueanne was not at the scene of the crime and  repeatedly denied her involvement in the killing. However, a Johnson County jury convicted her of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder, despite Ed Hobson’s testimony that she was innocent of any involvement in the killing of his son.
Ironically, the two boys who actually committed the killing were released from prison several years ago. Crumm was released in January 1999. Sorrentino was released in April 2000. The two men now live out of state.
Crumm was convicted of first-degree murder. Sorrentino entered into a plea agreement of aiding and abetting first-degree murder in exchange for his testimony at Sueanne’s trial. Jimmy also agreed to testify against his mother at her trial.
Both teenagers faced prison terms of 15-years-to-life in prison. However, under Kansas sentencing guidelines at the time of the killing, their life sentences also included the possibility that they could be paroled after serving only seven and one-half years.
Both boys were passed over several times before being granted parole, but served substantially less time than Sueanne. Kansas parole board officials said Crumm and Sorrentino, despite being the actual killers, were released earlier than Sueanne because they both admitted their guilt in the killing of Chris.
Sueanne repeatedly refused to admit her involvement in the killings, which led the parole board to deny her probation eight times.
          In the 1990s Kansas changed its sentencing guidelines, abolishing the right for parole in life sentences after serving only seven and one-half years. The Kansas Legislature enacted more stringent parole guidelines that ensure substantially longer prison sentences for those convicted of murder.
          Since her release, Sueanne and Ed have refused to publicly discuss the case or their lives together. Her daughter, Suzanne, who was 13 years old at the time of the killing and testified at her mother’s trial, has also refused comment.
          For information on how to purchase a copy of my book, contact me at  The cost is $15 and it includes shipping and handling.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Why We Should Abolish the Death Penalty

My name is Andy Hoffman. Thank you for inviting me to talk with you today about my ongoing mission to see the death penalty abolished, not only in Kansas, but throughout the United States.
There are many reasons for the abolishment of the death penalty. But for me, it’s simple: the death penalty is a final act that, if wrong, cannot be corrected.
Today, I would like to spend some time outlining several reasons why I believe the death penalty should end. I know there are some here today that totally disagree with me. They believe there are those in our society who have committed such horrendous atrocities that the only justifiable punishment is death.
 Although I disagree with it, I accept the fact that many educated people have that opinion. I also hope that after thinking about issues involved in the death penalty those who still believe in it will at least begin to re-consider the ramifications of their position.
I reached my own opposition to the death penalty while studying journalism and criminal justice in college several years ago. My professional career as a newspaper reporter and nationally published true-crime author has only re-enforced my adamant opposition to it.
Covering courts and crime as a journalist, I learned first-hand that, while our justice system is the best in the world, it is still rife with imperfections. Although I have never personally seen the justice system execute an innocent person, I have witnessed wrongful convictions based on human error on numerous occasions. Many of those errors involved police misconduct, overzealous prosecutors, and wrongful application of the law by the judiciary.
While I was disappointed by the Kansas Legislature’s lack of action on the death penalty during its recent 2012 session, I am still hopeful we are closer to abolishing legalized murder in the state and nation than we were five years ago.
In the mid-1980s, Jerry Spence, an infamous criminal defense attorney, author and long-time death penalty opponent, wrote the following in his book, Of Murder and Madness:
“Just because a majority of Americans support death as a punishment does not make the killing right, it only makes it legal.”
When he wrote that statement, a large majority of Americans favored the death penalty, many simply out of fear that without the death penalty those convicted of murder could be released from prison to kill again. That is not the case today.
According to the Kansas Coalition Against the Death Penalty, “Kansas already has an alternative sentence (to the death penalty) on the books: life in prison without parole. Life without parole means just that, there is no possibility of release from prison.”  
I think that, in part, has started to change people’s opinion about the death penalty. Safety has become less worrisome as our non-death penalty sentences for murder have become more stringent.
As of April of this year, seventeen states (as well as Washington, D.C.), have banned its use since the United States Supreme Court re-instated it nationwide in 1976. Kansas re-instated the death penalty in 1994. Although several people are currently on death row in Kansas, no one has been executed in the state since 1965.
That is why I am so energized to continue to support those who vigorously encourage its abolition.
Although I have never had a relative or close friend murdered, I have witnessed the trauma of those victimized by crime while covering courtrooms throughout the Midwest for several years. The pain and suffering of family members, not only those who are related to victims but also the defendants’ families, have left me little doubt that there are victims on both sides of every case.
I have learned there is no such thing as “closure” for victims’ families. Based upon hundreds of interviews with family members of victims, I don’t think the execution of a defendant is in any way helpful to the healing of the survivors.
I base that conclusion on the fact that I have covered more than 200 death-related criminal cases during my career, including three capital murder cases in Kansas.  
Having listened to hundreds of hours of trial testimony, I also do not believe the death penalty is a deterrent to murder. Not once I have heard testimony to indicate a murder was avoided because a defendant was concerned about the possibility of being executed for his crime.
 I also believe the death penalty is unfairly applied, prone to false convictions based on prosecutorial, police and judicial misconduct and driven in part by the amount of money a person has available to defend himself against a capital murder charge.
According to the Kansas Coalition Against the Death Penalty, statistics dramatically indicate the inconsistent application of the death penalty.
“The  likelihood of a person receiving a death sentence (in Kansas) varies depending on where they live, their economic status or other factors … Half of the 12 sentences handed down in Kansas since 1994 have been in one county: Sedgwick.”
 I truly believe that “color” does play a significant role in the type of justice those accused of heinous crimes receive. And it’s not the “color” of a person’s skin I am talking about. It’s the color “green.” MONEY.
In a recent speech, I heard Sister Helen Prejean, a world-renown anti-death penalty advocate; express a similar view on how justice is dispensed in our system:
“Money and influence decide who is considered for a parole hearing, what the decision is likely to be and what the Governor’s decision is likely to be. It is that, not a person’s behavior in prison that decides release.”
Ironically, I believe that money is also a driving force for many who recently began moving toward the abolishment of the death penalty. For many, it’s simply a cost-based decision. Budgets are tight. How do we reduce spending? Let’s end the death penalty. Although it’s not at the forefront of why I oppose death penalty, it does have some merit.
According to recent studies, it takes approximately $1.2 million to prosecute a death-penalty case. Compared to $740,000 to convict and house a person sentenced to prison for the remainder of his life.
Rodney Nichols, whose sister was murdered in 2001, is one of many who are taking a rational approach to punishment for murder. In a statement to the Kansas Coalition Against the Death Penalty, Nichols wrote:
“I remain convinced that the death penalty does nothing to ease my loss… Rather than spending extraordinary amounts of taxpayer dollars to execute a very few convicted killers, Kansas would do far better by using those funds to ensure hard life imprisonment for the murderers while also assisting families and crime victims recover from their painful experiences.”
Interestingly, recent data seems to indicate that “anti-death” penalty advocates are not simply basing their decisions on political ideology. While liberals seem to have always been at the forefront of anti-death penalty movements, it appears the move to abolish the death penalty is growing among conservatives, too. In this era of confrontation among our elected officials, it gives me hope that we can, as a civilized nation, reach a consensus on this issue.
However, we still have a long road to travel before we, as a state and nation, realize the barbarity of legalized murder.
Finally, I would like to add one other consideration that is not often mentioned. In our current world of 24-hour television news, social media and global awareness, “what happens in the United States no longer just stays in the United States.” It is spread throughout the world instantaneously.
Although I do not believe President John F. Kennedy had any premonition 50 years ago how fast today’s news would travel globally, he did offer some food for thought:
“Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.”
I believe if we could abolish the death penalty in our own country, it would be easier for us as a world power to oppose executions, political persecutions and other human rights violations by governments throughout the world. It is hard to condemn other countries’ actions when the United States continues to be barbaric in its use of the death penalty on its own citizenry.
 In conclusion, I would like to reiterate one simple thought about the death penalty:
Regardless of the reason, if one innocent person is executed, our system has failed us all.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

About Andy Hoffman

P.O. Box 704
Pittsburg, KS., 66762


Extensive professional experience in communications, newspaper/television journalism and public relations. Authored two true crime books published by Pocket Books/Simon & Schuster and Avon Books. More than two decades covering courts, crime, politics, education and sports. Featured on numerous national television shows, including CBS’ 48 Hours, ABC’s Dateline, Inside Edition and Current Affairs. Regular panelist on local and state public television programs throughout career, including Ask the Governor and Week in Review. Trial analyst for KCTV Channel 5 in Kansas City, Mo.  Worked on successful campaign for candidate to the United States House of Representatives.

Selected Accomplishments

Won the Burton W. Marvin Award from the William Allen White School of Journalism at the University of Kansas for a series of newspaper articles that led to the removal of a Johnson County District Court judge for malfeasance.

Received the H.G. Roberts Foundation’s First Amendment Freedom Award from Pittsburg State University for stories leading to the arrest and conviction of a man who killed two Kansas teenage sisters. Won numerous regional, state and local awards for newspaper reporting, including the Kansas Press Association’s spot news reporter of the year twice, the Inland Press Association Award for investigative reporting and the Harris Communications’ Enterprise award four times.
Wrote a series of articles that led to the first Major League Baseball players (Kansas City Royals) being sent to prison on drug charges. In addition, covered more than 200 murder cases, was involved in the arrest and conviction of an international arms smuggler and regularly wrote front-page newspaper columns about life in the Midwest.

Appointed to a “blue-ribbon” commission by Kansas’ three branches of government to perform a comprehensive study of the state’s judicial system; one of only a handful of non-lawyers and judges asked to serve on the prestigious 40-member panel.


                  Pittsburg State University.
                  Colgan High School.

Main focus of study at PSU was political science and journalism. While at PSU, was a member of PSU’s student senate and worked on the school newspaper for four years.