Paragraphs 50 through 53 read: "Before July 2007, Dr. Joseph C. Muhler writes, he considered Hott a 'very stable and productive individual,' a “model husband and father'.”
"That’s when Hott and his wife came for an appointment, on the recommendation of a counselor, and told the doctor of 'the highly unusual and dysfunctional relationship' Hott had with his father.
"Muhler writes he feels – and continues to feel – Hott is the victim of an abusive relationship resulting in anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. Hott was prescribed anti-anxiety and anti-depressant medications and received psychotherapy, and his doctor thought Hott was making progress."
"Muhler was 'shocked' to learn of the arrest."
" 'As his physician, I think his actions were completely inconsistent with his historic character and behavior,' the doctor wrote, 'and I feel they must have been the result of his emotional distress and its underlying provocation'.”
Published: April 24, 2011 3:00 a.m.
He wanted his father dead
Judge gets more than 50 letters for mercy, including one from Dad
Angela Mapes Turner
Troy Hott is charged in federal court with hiring someone to kill his father.
The small federal courtroom slowly filled with people, and the judge remarked the room had never been as full. The jury box became overflow seating.
Nearly all wore identical orange lapel pins shaped like ribbons, a symbol of support for the shackled defendant at the front of the room.
A man who, at one time, wanted his father dead.
‘Mean and angry’
The criminal complaint against Troy Hott barely fills 10 pages. In black and white, it lays out the case: Hott hired a hit man to kill his 76-year-old father, Don Hott, to “break his legs, break his neck, and shoot him and leave him to die.”
Only, the “hit man” was an undercover agent of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which had been tipped off by Troy Hott’s acquaintance. Hott, 50, was arrested in August and has pleaded guilty.
In a letter to his son’s judge, Don Hott puts quotation marks around the word “victim” and says there is more to the case than the affidavit suggests.
“At its base, it is about a father and son who have had, over the course of our lives, many, many difficult times,” he writes. “And to be honest, I have probably been the source of many of those interpersonal troubles.”
It isn’t unusual for supporters to write character letters to a judge in support of a defendant.
It is somewhat unusual for the victim to write one, and more so, for more than 50 other supporters to write them, and to back up their opinions by launching a public campaign of support. The letters addressed to U.S. District Court Judge William C. Lee came from relatives, from racquetball partners, even from Troy Hott’s kindergarten teacher.
They share a common theme: shock.
The real story, they say, is one of an abusive father, manipulative and confrontational, a “victim” who had put his son through years of torment.
“Mr. (Don) Hott cannot be described as a liked individual,” begins a sentencing memorandum filed by the defense. Don Hott was “a mean and angry father, prone to emotional abuse and verbal bullying,” who would take away material items from his children for any perceived slight or mistake.
A childhood friend summed it up this way:
“I’ll never forget how Troy’s friends would scatter when the old man walked into the house,” wrote Don Wise Jr., of Angola. “No kid should ever have to live in fear that way.”
The brick-and-shingle Hott family home sits on a hill near downtown Markle, a wide porch flanked by concrete lions and the orange ribbons that have become a symbol of hope for judicial mercy.
In that home, Troy Hott has been a devoted husband as his wife battles cancer and a model father for his son and daughter, one in high school, another in college.
The tidy landscaping and flowers hint at Hott’s past helming of his wife’s family business, a greenhouse. But more recently, his work had him driving vehicles cross-country – long trips with plenty of time to dwell on past hurts, family members speculate.
Troy Hott is his father’s only son, the father of Don Hott’s only grandchildren.
In transcribed comments – Hott’s interactions with the agent and tipster were recorded – the son speaks coldly.
“In my mind, he’s already dead,” he said of his father.
Markle, a town of about 1,000 residents in eastern Huntington County, on the Wells County line, has come out in support of Troy Hott.
On a recent morning, Markle is quiet, the only sign of life a white-haired man in brown coveralls, ankle-deep in the river and holding a fishing pole, on the west side of town.
But months after Troy Hott’s arrest, tattered orange ribbons still flutter on lampposts. More are wrapped around trees near the Hott home, a short walk from downtown, and around the porch pillars and street lights of neighbors’ houses.
Many express love and concern for Troy Hott, but they also worry about the effects his potential years-long imprisonment would have on his children and sick wife. Despite Hott’s problems with his own father, he had good, even great relationships within his own family, the letters say.
“Troy is a wonderful father and husband, showed his family love and respect,” wrote Kathryn and Richard Hott, his aunt and uncle. “Troy did not have such a father.”
The town was home, or at least home base, to Don Hott until recently. From 1965 to 1986, he operated Agrarian Trucking of Markle, retiring only to go back to work in 1988 as a self-employed long-haul trucker until 2005.
Carolyn Hamilton wrote she was a neighbor of Troy Hott’s aunt and has known the family since Troy was a teenager.
“Judge Lee, I could tell you many stories about our community and Don Hott, but those stories are not mine to tell,” she writes.
She does, however, hint at the history.
“Troy was sent to Aunt Dottie’s whenever there was a disturbance at his home,” Hamilton writes. “I can remember being told to keep my children inside our home when Troy’s father was on a rampage.”
George Paul of Markle writes that he’s a 40-year acquaintance of the younger Hott. Paul recalled his military service, when he sat in on courts-martial.
“Once a person was found guilty, there came a time for the defense to present extenuating circumstances,” Paul writes. “In my opinion, Troy has extenuating circumstances which caused him to act in such an impulsive way.”
A father’s regrets
Don Hott, in his own letter to the judge, writes that he raised Troy the way he himself had been raised, using his authority to “toughen up” his son.
“I have intentionally taken on a confrontational role in dealing with Troy, intending to ‘test’ and mold his manhood and maturity,” the father writes. “I know no
w that I could have and should have handled my son and our relationship in a very different manner.”
What exactly that means may never be known outside the two.
Troy Hott’s attorney did not respond to a request for comment; his immediate family, after consultation with the family attorney, also chose not to comment. His father did not respond to a written request for an interview.
What is known: Troy Hott’s contact with that federal agent in July wasn’t the first time his dealings with his father brought him to a courtroom.
Some clues may lie within the dimly lit marble hallways of the Huntington Courthouse, in oversized and well-worn manila file folders stuffed inches thick with date-stamped papers.
In July 2007, Troy Hott was charged with misdemeanor battery in Huntington Superior Court. The alleged victim was his father, Don Hott. The case was dismissed in November 2008 when Troy Hott completed a pretrial diversion program and paid his father more than $2,600 restitution.
During that time, Troy’s mother, Clara Hott, filed for divorce – not for the first time – from Don Hott. Their divorce was finalized in 2008.
While those cases were being resolved, on Halloween 2008, Don Hott filed a complaint in Huntington Circuit Court claiming his son owed him $800 for repairing the hood of a Corvette that had been in Troy Hott’s possession. The judge later ruled Don Hott failed to meet the burden of proof in that case.
More serious was a six-page complaint Don Hott filed against his son at the same time. It concerned two parcels of land in Markle. That complaint said father and son agreed in 1998 that Don Hott would lend his son money to build a storage building on the property. The deal went sour, as evidenced by Don Hott’s carefully itemized receipts and demand for nearly $84,000.
The case racked up more than three dozen entries on the court docket over the next two years. A mediation session was scheduled for Aug. 19, 2010.
By then, Troy Hott had been arrested in the murder-for-hire case.
Among the personal letters from friends and family filed with the federal court is one on professional letterhead from his family doctor since the late 1980s.
Before July 2007, Dr. Joseph C. Muhler writes, he considered Hott a “very stable and productive individual,” a “model husband and father.”
That’s when Hott and his wife came for an appointment, on the recommendation of a counselor, and told the doctor of “the highly unusual and dysfunctional relationship” Hott had with his father.
Muhler writes he feels – and continues to feel – Hott is the victim of an abusive relationship resulting in anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. Hott was prescribed anti-anxiety and anti-depressant medications and received psychotherapy, and his doctor thought Hott was making progress.
Muhler was “shocked” to learn of the arrest.
“As his physician, I think his actions were completely inconsistent with his historic character and behavior,” the doctor wrote, “and I feel they must have been the result of his emotional distress and its underlying provocation.”
‘Unafraid and unharmed’
On March 14, dozens Troy Hott’s friends and relatives milled about Fort Wayne’s federal courthouse, waiting for him to be sentenced by Judge Lee.
They would leave disappointed. After hearing some testimony and taking a short lunch break, Lee rejected a plea agreement that would have had Hott serving 87 months in prison – more than seven years. That already was a lighter sentence than the advisory sentence of 14 to 17 1/2 years, prosecutors said.
Lee said he didn’t want to have his sentencing discretion circumscribed by the restrictive agreement and gave Hott the option to withdraw his guilty plea; Hott declined and is scheduled for another sentencing hearing at 10:30 a.m. May 9.
During the March hearing, Assistant U.S. Attorney Tina Nommay said Troy Hott’s conduct toward his father was escalating. Prosecutors have audio and video recordings of the government’s undercover officer telling Troy Hott he could back out 10 times or more over in several days.
“There’s a lot of pressure on the victim in this case to make everything right,” she said.
That victim, Don Hott, stood before the rows of people who wore orange ribbons in support of the son who allegedly had wanted him to die.
At 76, Hott doesn’t look threatening. He is hard of hearing and had difficulty understanding the judge’s instructions. He wore thick glasses and a neat suit and tie; he stood slightly stooped.
He called himself “an old man, full of regrets.”
“I have been unafraid and unharmed,” he said. “I humbly ask the court to have mercy on the defendant.”
The elder Hott spoke of a pattern of behavior that began with his own father, with whom he made peace 30 years ago, he said. The next day, his father died of a blood clot.
After that experience 30 years ago, he said, he forgot the peace that came with making amends. He went back to work in the trucking business.
He and his son frequently butted heads.
“My dad didn’t want to listen and neither did I,” he said. “Now, not a day goes by that I don’t regret the whole sorry thing. It tears me up inside.”
He asked the judge to have mercy on his son and said he would like to shake his son’s hand.
“I may never see him again,” he said.
The judge didn’t think it’d be a good idea.
The moment passed.
Editor’s note: This story was compiled from court testimony and documents filed in the U.S. District Court Northern District of Indiana and Huntington Circuit and Superior courts.