Wiesel attack suspect contrite

A man accused of attacking famed author and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel in a San Francisco hotel apologized to him in court Monday during an emotional hearing after which the man’s mother also apologized.

Eric Hunt, 23, spoke out of turn shortly after the 78-year-old Wiesel took the witness stand during a preliminary hearing. Hunt faces six felony counts, including kidnapping, elder abuse, battery, stalking and two counts of false imprisonment, as well as hate crime enhancements.

“Mr. Wiesel, I’m sorry for scaring you and I’m sorry about what happened in the Holocaust,” Hunt said. “My grandfather fought the Nazis and I’m sorry about what happened.”

As The Examiner first reported, Hunt allegedly grabbed Wiesel and pulled him out of an elevator in the Argent hotel Feb. 1, after Wiesel finished addressing a peace conference. Hunt later wrote in an Internet posting that he wanted to take Wiesel back to his room and interview him, hoping to hear him retract the contents of “Night,” Wiesel’s famous Holocaust memoir.

Wiesel has said before, and testified Wednesday, that the encounter with Hunt left him scared for his safety for the first time since the end of World War II, when Wiesel was the only member of his immediate family to survive Auschwitz concentration camp.

“Fear has invaded me. In all truthfulness, it left a trace. I have never looked behind me before[the alleged attack]. I do now,” Wiesel testified Monday.

Hunt has pleaded not guilty in the case. His lawyer, John Runfola, filed a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity early on, but retracted it about three weeks ago. Runfola said Monday that he hopes Hunt will receive a sentence of probation instead of being sent to a state mental facility. He also said the case was “overcharged” because of Wiesel’s high profile.

Runfola maintains that Hunt is mentally ill, and that he accosted Wiesel while in the grip of a manic episode. He said Hunt is on medication for bipolar disorder, and that he is mortified about the incident.

Outside the courtroom, Wiesel said he was not surprised by Hunt’s apology.

“I’m a novelist, so I imagine situations. In my novel, for instance, this is the thing that the character would do. Clever, very clever. But, at the same time, it’s possible he really meant it,” Wiesel said.

After Wiesel was dismissed from the witness stand, Hunt’s mother tearfully approached him. She apologized to Wiesel and called her son “a kind boy, a sensitive boy.” She said, “I want him to do good in the world and I believe he can.”

The hearing, which assesses whether there is sufficient evidence to hold a trial, is due to continue Aug. 20.

amartin@examiner.com


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