JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The man accused of beating a teen to death at a bonfire party in January was allowed out of house arrest to go to a wedding last weekend, a decision that did not sit well with the victim's family.
Christopher Hoffman, 25, is charged with punching 19-year-old Ryan Scott Ford (pictured, below) during a fight and killing him.
Ford's family is angry that Duval County Judge Mark Hulsey allowed Hoffman out of home detention to be the best man at his friend's wedding while the case is still pending.
"I don't believe he deserves to be out in public," said Linda Ford, Ryan's mother. "He needs to be where he deserves: jail."
Linda was one of several people protesting outside the wedding.
"Hoffman is being let off for five and a half hours to go to a wedding, and my son will never be able to go to his own wedding or any of his brothers or sisters weddings. It's not fair," Linda said.
Hoffman was arrested after the fight in Mandarin in January. Police said another man, Robert Cline, threw the first punch and was charged with assault, but Hoffman did the damage that killed Ford.
Hoffman bonded out of jail and was allowed to go home under the condition that he wear a GPS monitor and can only leave to go to work. But at a court hearing last Friday, Hoffman and his lawyer asked the judge for an exception to the rules so he could be the best man in a friend's wedding in St. Augustine.
The judge agreed, and according to Hoffman's attorney, he did make it to the celebration.
Ford's family, who demonstrated outside, was furious.
"It's very shocking, especially with his past history of violence. He's been arrested before," said Jody Cowart, Ryan's stepfather.
Hoffman's lawyer, James Hill, said his client followed all the rules the judge set forth. He wore his ankle bracelet, he did not drink alcohol, and he returned home after the wedding, Hill said.
He said Hoffman is innocent until proven guilty, and he was simply doing what the bride and groom asked of him. Hill said Hoffman is very close friends with the couple and was asked to be in the wedding before his arrest. Hill said the couple was also at the party where Ford was killed.
The move doesn't sit well with the family and friends of Ford, who are still very much devastated by his tragic death.
"The justice system has messed up and that they need to learn and we are out here proving it," Ford's friend Tiffany Caseber said.
The judge declined to comment about his decision. Usually judges can't talk about open cases.
Hoffman is due back in court on Sept. 25, and Ford's family says they'll be there.
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