35 years later, family fights to keep killer in prison

- A Corcoran, Minn. man who strangled his wife and dismembered her body 35 years ago will be eligible for parole next week, and the family of his victim is once again fighting against his release. 

In 1980, David Francis Hoffman, strangled his wife Carol Stebbins after she refused to have sex with him.  He then dismembered her body, disposing part of it down the garbage disposal. The rest of the body he dumped into nearby Weaver Lake. 

“It’s bad enough to murder someone but to cut them up like that,” Phyllis Stebbins, Carol’s mother, told the FOX 9 Investigators. “She wasn't the evil one. It was him.”

110 killers waiting for parole

Hoffman was convicted under a pre-1990 law that established the sentence of first degree murder at 17 years, when the inmate would become eligible for review by a parole board. 

Hoffman, 69, has served 35 years in prison, exceeding the current life sentence for first degree murder of 30 years. This will be Hoffman’s fifth appearance before the Minnesota Parole Board.

And he’s hardly alone.  More than 110 Minnesota inmates convicted of first degree murder before the law changed in 1990, will be eligible for parole in the next five years. 

There are currently 50 killers convicted of first degree murder before 1990, who have already been released.  Minnesota Corrections Commissioner Tom Roy, who has the final decision on parole, agreed to release half of them, 25.

”I have often said we are not zoo keepers,” Commissioner Roy told the FOX 9 Investigators in July.  “And if we don't believe people can change and get better our work is for naught,” Roy said.

The first degree killers released by Roy have served an average of 27 years in prison.

A troubled marriage and a mother-in-law

The Hoffman’s  had a troubled marriage, and it only became worse when Hoffman’s mother, Helen Ulvinen moved in shortly before the murder. Ulvinen occupied the couple’s two young daughters while her son disposed of the body. Ulvinen was also convicted of first degree murder, but her conviction was overturned a year later on appeal.

In a 12-page confession, he later recanted, Hoffman said his mother approved of his plan to kill Carol, and said, “It will be for the best.” Hoffman, who allegedly planned the killing for two years, even sharing details with co-workers, said he finally killed Carol one night when she refused to have sex, telling him to go have sex with your “fat momma.”

A question of remorse

In previous parole hearings, Hoffman’s daughters have supported his parole. They did not respond to the FOX 9 Investigators for comment.

In a letter denying Hoffman’s parole in 2000, former Corrections Commissioner Sheryl Ramstad Hvass wrote, “You appear to have a blind spot in your thought pattern that prevents you from recognizing the enormity of what you did and the fact that as a human being you could have the capacity to commit such an act.  In a sense, you seem to be removed from the act itself, more as a victim of circumstances surrounding the act,” Ramstad Hvass wrote.

Hoffman’s defense attorney in 1980, Tom Kelly, disagreed with that assessment. Kelly told the FOX 9 Investigators he remembers Hoffman being very remorseful.  Kelly mounted an unsuccessful insanity defense for Hoffman. 

At the parole hearing next week, the Stebbins family will have 30 minutes to make their case about why Hoffman should not be released.

Phyllis Stebbins said the family is ready.

“He has no remorse, because he has said I'm the victim.”

“We're the victims, we did 35 years, but ours was harder,” Stebbins said. “We have nothing anymore. Just our pictures and our memories.”

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