Jury convicts homeless man in 2006 capital murder case

Posted Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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A Tarrant County jury took 40 minutes Wednesday to convict a homeless man of killing a 34-year-old mother nearly seven years ago in her west Fort Worth apartment.

John Russell Hoffman, 45, received an automatic sentence of life in prison without parole for beating, raping and smothering Laurie Chavers on Oct. 2, 2006.

Chavers’ son, Zachary Harvey, then 10, found his mother’s body on the floor of his bedroom when he returned from school. She was partially clothed and wrapped in a Toy Story-themed comforter, and there were signs of a violent struggle, investigators testified.

The initial suspect was a man who had lived with Chavers and her son, prosecutor Kevin Rousseau said.

Harvey testified that the man beat his mother often and that to get away from him, they moved to a new apartment weeks before the killing. A business card for a women’s shelter was found in a bedroom. Investigators found no signs of forced entry to the apartment.

But the man cooperated with police and was cleared, prosecutors said.

DNA found under Chavers’ fingernails was compared with 19 possible suspects, but none matched.

In 2010, Hoffman’s DNA, which was in a state database, was found to match the sample from Chavers’ body, Rousseau said. It also matched DNA found on her ankle and neck and in the genital area.

Chavers spent her last moments fighting her attacker as hard as she could, Rousseau told jurors in his closing argument.

“How do you get your DNA all over a woman?” Rousseau said. “You attack her, you grab her, beat her as hard as you can, throw her against a wall and you keep doing it while you’re stripping her naked and you hold something over her face.

“And we know that in 30 seconds, let’s go 45 seconds, she’s lying there barely able to breathe. She’s not fighting anymore. That has passed. And you keep your body weight on her.”

Fred Cummings, Hoffman’s attorney, told jurors that prosecutors did not give them enough evidence to convict on the capital murder charge.

“There is nothing that was collected that places John Hoffman in that apartment,” Cummings said in his closing statement.

After the verdict was returned, Harvey, now 17, addressed Hoffman in court “and publicly forgave him,” according to a news release from the district attorney’s office.

Rousseau prosecuted the case with Michelle Dobson before visiting Judge David Cleveland.

Mitch Mitchell, 817-390-7752 Twitter: @mitchmitchel3

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