May 2, 2012
‘A very explosive situation’
Court papers detail dispute that led to stabbing death
Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Dana Houghtling is led Tuesday afternoon from Tompkins County Court in Ithaca by a corrections officer. Houghtling is accused of stabbing Jeff West, who later died.
ITHACA — A Groton man indicted for murder after an April 15 stabbing faced a Tompkins County judge Tuesday and pleaded innocent to 12 charges.
Dana Houghtling, 40, of 734 W. Groton Road, is accused of fatally stabbing 31-year-old Jeff West, of 125 Old Peruville Road, Groton, multiple times with two knives outside a home at 757 VanOstrand Road in Lansing.
A fistfight between both men preceded the killing, Tompkins County prosecutors said.
Court papers made public Tuesday after Houghtling’s arraignment in Tompkins County Court revealed new details.
Houghtling was desperate to reunite with his estranged wife, Amber, despite a court order to keep away, the court papers allege.
Houghtling and his wife separated three weeks earlier after a domestic dispute sent her to the hospital, requiring an order of protection on her behalf, court papers said.
The day of the killing, Houghtling texted Amber a message saying he wanted her back and their 8-year-old daughter missed her mother, court papers said.
Fearing Houghtling might harm himself, Amber, her boyfriend West and another friend went to Houghtling’s home to check on him and their 8-year-old daughter, court papers said. They took the girl from the house.
Houghtling was screaming he wanted his wife back, but West stepped between the estranged couple and told Houghtling he would not hurt her again, court papers allege.
Both men exchanged a few punches, but the women separated them.
After the confrontation, Amber, West and their friend went back to the friend’s VanOstrand Road home with the 8-year-old girl, court papers said.
Houghtling grabbed two knives from his house and followed them in his own vehicle, court papers allege.
He drove his vehicle across the lawn of the VanOstrand Road house when he got there and smashed his vehicle into a car parked in the driveway, hitting it hard enough to barrel-roll it against the house, prosecutors said.
Houghtling then chased West around the outside of the house, stabbing him several times with two large knives, court papers said. West and Houghtling’s ex-wife got into a car to escape the attack, court papers said.
“Before she could find the keys to start the vehicle, Dana Houghtling pounded on the driver’s side door window with the butt end of one of the knives,” Assistant District Attorney Andrew Bonavia said in court papers.
“Houghtling eventually smashed the window and repeatedly stabbed at West while he was in the passenger seat,” Bonavia said.
Five children — ages 13, 10, 8, 6 and 4 — were in the house when West was being stabbed, court papers said.
Prosecutors did not reveal how many times West was stabbed, but said Houghtling’s ex-wife received cuts herself when she tried to stop the attack. Houghtling left in his vehicle after the stabbing, prosecutors said. Houghtling’s ex-wife drove West to the Groton Fire Department, where he received first aid for the stab wounds, court papers said.
Police conducted a search and found Houghtling’s abandoned vehicle near the intersection of Van Ostrand and Newman roads, about a mile from where West was stabbed, authorities said.
Houghtling reportedly fled into a wooded area, after ditching his vehicle, but later surrendered to the Tompkins County Sheriff’s Department.
West was taken to University Hospital in Syracuse and died the next day.
“This was a very explosive situation, an unexpected event, one that my client had no way of expecting was going to take place,” defense attorney Joe Joch said Tuesday outside the Courthouse. “It involved an attack on him by the victim … an event that resulted in the victim’s death.”
A Tompkins County grand jury indicted Houghtling for second-degree murder, single counts of aggravated criminal contempt, first-degree criminal contempt, felonies; two counts of fourth-degree criminal possession of a weapon, one count of fourth-degree criminal mischief, and five counts of endangering the welfare of a child, misdemeanors.
Houghtling pleaded not guilty to all counts.
“We’re on the track for an eventual trial in October … and a great deal of decision-making that needs to be done about the direction we’re going to go with the defense,” Joch said.
In court, Joch indicated there could be psychiatric evidence used in the defense, but did not elaborate.
Tompkins County Judge John Rowley kept Houghtling in jail Tuesday with bail set at $500,000 cash or $1 million bond. Houghtling is expected back in court May 18.
On Tuesday, Rowley agreed to consider letting Ithaca lawyer William Furniss, who represented Houghtling in the original order of protection case, to help Joch with the murder defense.
Rowley did not grant Joch’s request to lower bail, but said county probation officers will decide whether Houghtling qualifies for any pretrial release supervision.
Houghtling faces a maximum of 25 years to life and a minimum of 15 years to life in state prison if convicted of murder.
“He’s handling it in the same way any middle-class, decent person with no criminal record would handle it, which is all the mixed emotions you and I would have,” Joch said after Tuesday’s court proceedings.
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