The family of Nicole Gututala asked Judge Troy LeFevre to sentence her killer to life without the possibility of parole during a sentencing hearing Thursday in Southeast District Court in Jamestown.
That request was granted by Judge Troy LeFevre, who passed the sentence on to Kevin Hoff, 27, after a hearing including victim impact statements from the family.
Gututala, 25, was shot three times by Hoff on May 12 as she sat in her car in the parking lot outside her apartment building in Jamestown.
Shayna Mano, a sister of the victim, presented a victim witness statement by telephone to the court, saying Gututala's murder was the hardest on the victim's 2- and 3-year-old children.
"For this, the person who took their mother should serve life without parole," she said. "The loss of our sister has absolutely devastated us."
Mano disputed claims Hoff made at the arraignment and in the custody case that Gututala had abused the children.
"The only abuse is the loss of their mother," she said.
Violet Woodward, an aunt also testifying by telephone, said she prayed justice would be served.
"How could you ever call yourself a father after you denied these children their mother," she said. "I pray you are sentenced to life without parole."
Wenonah Gututala, the victim's mother, was scheduled to present a victim impact statement over the phone but was too emotional to proceed.
Fritz Fremgen, Stutsman County state's attorney, said Hoff had no mitigating factor that would lessen his crime and that Hoff had no reasonable belief that there was a threat to his children.
Fremgen then detailed the events leading up to the murder. On May 8, Hoff received court documents that he had lost his appeal of a court order giving Gututala sole custody of the children and prohibiting Hoff from having contact with the children until they reached the age of 18.
On May 9, Hoff was served with a foreclosure notice on his home.
On May 12, Hoff dropped off the children at his sister's with some money and then called Gututala to go get the children. He waited until she left her apartment and went to her car in the apartment parking lot.
Fremgen called what happened next "an ambush" where Hoff called upon his military training.
"Once she was in the car, she was trapped," he said. "He used military tactics on an unarmed civilian."
Fremgen grew emotional when asking the court for a sentence of life without the possibility of parole.
"If allowed parole, he might be eligible for parole at 69," Fremgen said, noting that actuarial tables showed Hoff could have an average life span of about 77 years. "The possibility of him walking free for eight years is not fair."
Fremgen had included a request for a permanent order prohibiting contact between Hoff and the children as part of the sentence. LeFevre said a case review indicated such an order could not be included in a criminal sentence.
Hoff did not speak in his own defense. No character witnesses were called, although LeFevre said letters in support of Hoff had been submitted to the court.
Russ Myhre, Hoff's court-appointed defense attorney, said Hoff had shown acceptance of responsibility by turning himself in after the crime and pleading guilty early in the proceedings. He also asked that Hoff's military service and honorable discharge be considered in sentencing.
LeFevre said the crime was "obviously a horrific crime committed by Mr. Hoff." He quoted from the presentence investigation report, saying that Hoff "did what he felt was necessary and had no remorse."
Hoff showed no emotion during the entire proceeding.
"I'm glad the judge saw he wasn't remorseful," said Lani Gasper, a friend of Gututala's who had traveled from Hawaii to witness the sentencing. "I'm glad it's over and the judge saw he didn't seem to care."