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San Francisco Chronicle, Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Man ordered to stand trial for allegedly accosting Elie Wiesel

by Jaxon Van Derbeken,
Chronicle Staff Writer

SAN FRANCISCO -- Elie WieselThe man accused of accosting Holocaust survivor and author Elie Wiesel in a San Francisco hotel must stand trial on all six felony counts filed against him, a judge ruled today. Eric Hunt, 23, of New Jersey is accused of attempted kidnapping, false imprisonment, battery, stalking and two counts of elder abuse in the Feb. 1 incident in which he allegedly grabbed the 78-year-old Nobel Peace Prize winner and took him off an elevator at the Argent Hotel.

Someone identifying himself as Hunt later wrote an Internet posting about the incident, saying he had been trying to persuade Wiesel to say the Holocaust never happened.

Hunt's defense lawyer, John Runfola, has contended that his client suffered from an undiagnosed mental illness and that he should get treatment, not prison time, for an incident in which Wiesel was not physically harmed. Prosecutor Alan Kennedy told Superior Court Judge Harold Kahn that Hunt's conduct showed the gravity of the crime. "It is very clear that the defendant was stalking the professor to force him, he said in his own words, to acknowledge the Holocaust was a lie."

Runfola called the government's case "very weak" and said that all his client had done was ask to talk to Wiesel. "It is quite a stretch to say this was a credible threat (to harm Wiesel)," the lawyer said. After Wiesel shouted for help, Runfola said, Hunt simply let him go. "Mr. Hunt never touched him again," he said.

In ordering Hunt to stand trial, Kahn said found evidence to support all the allegations. The fact that Hunt traveled across the country from his home in New Jersey to confront Wiesel was an indication he had been stalking him and could have posed a threat, the judge said.

"There was a plan for Mr. Hunt to take Mr. Wiesel against his will," to Hunt's room, Kahn said. There are also indications Hunt intended to harm Wiesel if he did not renounce the Holocaust, the judge said.

Wiesel testified last week that the experience left him feeling "violated" and more frightened than he had been since World War II. "The shock to me was so great that I lost a sense of time and space," Wiesel said. Hunt interrupted Wiesel's testimony to tell the author that he was "terribly sorry about what happened."

Outside court, Wiesel described the apology as "something a character (in a novel) would do. It's clever, very clever."

Kahn ordered today that Hunt be referred to a behavioral health court before trial. The special court oversees treatment for offenders whose cases can be dismissed upon completion of a mental health treatment program, as long as prosecutors go along with the idea. Runfola welcomed the referral. "It's a recognition by a very interested judge that the underlying issue is psychiatric, not hate," he said. Kennedy, however, said prosecutors would oppose the referral. "We don't think this is a suitable case for behavioral health court," he said.

E-mail Jaxon Van Derbeken

Copyright 2007 SF Chronicle



Our dossier on Elie Wiesel
Man ordered to keep away from Wiesel
Anne Cavendish of Cambridge, has a few things to say about Elie Wiesel-speak: When I lie, I am telling the truth
BBC: Why are Jews at the 'Holocaust denial' conference?
Did President Ahamdinejad ever threaten to 'wipe Israel off the map'? (No)
Mar 25, 2007: Elie Wiesel, The Witness who can't Stay Silent
Feb 9, 2007: Wiesel survives assault in San Francisco hotel elevator - attacker accuses him of lying in memoirs, Night
Elie Wiesel on United States and "mass graves" in Iraq, Jul 4, 2004
Letter: Deborah Barnhardt is appalled that some people do not believe Elie Wiesel's memoirs are true | Orest Slepokura reminds us that the book is designated as a novel

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