Man gets 5 years in bonfire beating death

26-year-old convicted last month of felony battery

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The man convicted of felony battery in the fight that ended in the death of a 19-year-old last year at a bonfire was sentenced Wednesday to five years in prison.

Christopher Hoffman, 26, was convicted last month in connection with the beating death of Ryan Ford in January 2013. After nearly four hours of deliberations, the six-member jury acquitted him of second-degree murder and found him guilty of the lesser charge.

"The reaction to the sentencing is the best that we could possibly achieve today, considering that we didn't get a second-degree murder or a manslaughter charge (conviction)," said Ford family spokesman Jody Cowart.

Ryan Ford

"I'm hoping that the Ford family has received some closure," said James Hill, Hoffman's defense attorney. "I know it's difficult for everybody involved. But everybody is sympathetic to that situation. But at the end of the day, I think it was a more appropriate outcome."

During the trial, prosecutors argued Hoffman was responsible for the beating death at a bonfire party on private property in Mandarin, but the jury decided prosecutors could not prove Hoffman threw the fatal punch.

The defense argued there were way too many unanswered questions.

Hoffman's attorney asked for a new trial before the sentence, but that request was denied.

Ford's family said there are still two people out there who know more about what happened, two people who were there that night. They're asking that those people to come forward.

"As far as closure, it's just a small piece, knowing that somebody is going to take some responsibility," Cowart said of the sentence. "And there's still two people out there that the State Attorney's Office is looking for that."

Robert Cline, who was also arrested in the case, is charged with misdemeanor battery on Ryan Ford. Cline's attorney has filed a "stand your ground petition," saying Ford was the aggressor that night. A hearing for that has been scheduled for next month.

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