On Monday, Senior Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Brian P. Boyle was careful not to utter Hamilton’s name as he characterized him as “depraved” and “dangerous,” frequently referring to him as “the defendant” or “the man.” “While each of these words is an accurate description of what you’ve heard over the last few weeks, here in the sentencing hearing, the words have a much greater meaning.” The crime, he said, demands “a response that is more than the usual response.”
In her opening remarks, one of Hamilton’s attorneys pleaded for mercy on his behalf. Vivian Hernandez told jurors that Hamilton — whose father, a retired second-in-command of the Charleston, S.C., police department, sat in the courtroom — deserved life in prison without a chance for parole. Not the death penalty, she said.
“Mercy is not expected. It’s given,” Hernandez said. “It comes from the recognition of the frailty and sacredness of life.” She said Hamilton’s family members “know he will contribute to their lives from prison.”
More than two years have passed since Hamilton, who deployed to Iraq twice as a member of the 101st Airborne Division, used 11 minutes of his life to tear everything he had built apart.
On Feb. 27, 2016, Hamilton got into a fight with his wife, Crystal Hamilton, 29, a recovery care coordinator for wounded Marines, at their Woodbridge home. The couple’s marriage was crumbling, and by then, they were living in separate bedrooms and, at various points, were each having affairs.
But when Crystal said she was going out with her girlfriends that night to an adult entertainment club whether he liked it or not, Hamilton went into a rage. With their then-11-year-old son Tyriq in the house, Hamilton threw Crystal up against the wall of her bedroom. She called 911, pleading for police to come quickly. And then, he shot her multiple times.
When Prince William police arrived, Hamilton emerged from the front doorway, spraying bullets. He hit three officers, including Ashley Guindon, 29. She was a former Marine reservist from New Hampshire who had just been sworn in as a Prince William police officer. The day before the shooting, the department tweeted out a photo of her dressed in her blue uniform and dark tie, with her hands clasped in front of her. “Be safe!” the tweet said.
Guindon got hit in the back and later died. Two other officers, Jesse Hempen and David McKeown, were also shot but survived their wounds. Hempen suffered a massive gunshot in the leg threatening a vital artery, while McKeown — hit in the groin, chest, leg and arm — was hurt so badly he could hear the blood pouring of his body, according to prosecutors.
Soon, Hamilton surrendered and told police he was possibly suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. He even asked a police officer to “shoot me now,” according to testimony from an earlier hearing in the case. His trial began Sept. 11 and he was convicted two weeks later on 17 charges, including capital murder, making him eligible for juries to consider recommending life in prison without parole or the death penalty. If a jury recommends death, it’s up to the judge to formally impose the sentence. Technically, the judge can overturn a death sentence and give a defendant life in prison.
If Hamilton is sentenced to death, he would become the fourth person on Virginia’s death row.
Prince William County, whose commonwealth’s attorney office has been helmed for decades by Paul Ebert, has long embraced the death penalty for capital murder. In a hearing two years ago, one of Hamilton’s attorneys, Ed Ungvarsky, cited statistics showing that Prince William has led the state in executions since 1976 and ranked among the top 2 percent of counties nationwide in the modern era.
During Monday’s hearing, Hamilton was dressed in a dark suit as opposed to his military uniform, which he had worn during his criminal trial.
Boyle argued to the jury, which includes seven whites and five people of color, that Hamilton deserved death because of two factors: the “vileness” of the murders and his future dangerousness.
“The defense said this was a terrible eleven minutes but this went far beyond eleven minutes,” Boyle said. “This was not the first time law enforcement had memorable interactions with the defendant.”
One witness, a former Prince William police officer, testified Monday he had been dispatched to the Hamiltons’ house in 2015 after a relative had called and said that Hamilton had been sending disturbing text messages. When the officer arrived, Hamilton repeatedly swore at him, ordering him to “get the f--- out of my house” and demanding to know “what the f----” he and another officer were doing there.
Hernandez, a defense attorney, acknowledged that Hamilton’s crimes were “horrible” and said there was no excuse. She said he and Hamilton’s father were estranged for much of their lives, but the younger Hamilton longed for a relationship with him.
After Monday’s hearing, Hamilton’s father, also named Ronald Hamilton, told The Washington Post: “I empathize with the feelings of the police officers and the entire community, and I hope the jury will show my son some mercy,” he said, “because he is a good person who made a terrible mistake.”