“ ‘He shot Crystal,’ ” the elder Hamilton remembered his daughter telling him on the night of Feb. 27, 2016, “ ‘and he shot three police officers and we believe one officer has passed away, and the others are in critical condition.’ ”
“When I heard the news,” he said, “I fell on the floor and started crying. I am law enforcement. My heart went out to the families of the police officers.”
The elder Hamilton, 65, who once helped lead a police department of more than 300 officers, was making one last plea to save his son’s life. The decorated police officer, who once worked at the White House under President Bill Clinton, is officially the father of a cop killer.
Ronnie Hamilton, 34, was convicted last month on capital murder charges for fatally shooting his 29-year-old wife at their Woodbridge, Va., home, before using an AK-47 to kill Ashley Guindon, a 28-year-old police officer on her first day on the job.
The younger Hamilton, a former IT specialist at the Pentagon who did not testify during the trial, now faces life in prison without parole or the death penalty. The 12 jurors, 10 of whom are women, are expected to begin deliberations next week. If Hamilton is sentenced to be executed, he would become the fourth person on Virginia’s death row.
On Wednesday, the elder Hamilton took the stand as his son’s final witness. Ronnie, he said, grew up in a deeply fractured household. Just a few years into his marriage to Thomaseen Hamilton, the retired major carried on an affair with another woman, Diane Williams. Their first child was Ronnie. Later, he and Williams had a second child, Julia Hamilton. He would visit them during his police hours, never telling his wife about his secret family.
But as the elder Hamilton ascended the hierarchy of his department during the 1980s and 1990s, earning awards and traveling to places including California and Mississippi, he told jurors that he mostly abandoned Ronnie during his formative years.
“It was heartbreaking because he was my only son. I wanted him, but I was married,” Hamilton testified. “Whenever I would leave, he would say, ‘Dad, I want to go with you.’ ”
The elder Hamilton told jurors that he feared if he’d told his wife about his other children, he’d lose his marriage and imperil his law enforcement career. So, he kept the secret. He became a captain in 1994. Two years later, the local newspaper, The Post and Courier, wrote a lengthy profile of him, accompanied by an enormous photo showing him in uniform posing next to his patrol car.
His career took precedence over raising Ronnie, he told the jury.
“After the article came out, I saw Ronnie less. I regretfully say and confess that I left him behind — the only son I had I left behind,” he said, choking up on the witness stand.
Later, when Ronnie joined the Army and deployed to Iraq in 2005, he wrote his dad a letter from the war zone. “I’m going to give up on calling you because you don’t ever answer your phone!” the son wrote in his letter home. His father never wrote him back.
“Things happen in life,” the father told jurors. “You just can’t go back and correct it. I was a different person back then. I was enthralled with my notoriety.”
Five or six years ago, Ronnie insisted on meeting his father’s wife, Thomaseen, for the first time. And Thomaseen was still in the dark about her husband’s secret family, what he called his “double life.”
When the elder Hamilton brought his grown son home to meet her, Thomaseen instantly embraced him, never getting angry.
“Had I been that brave years [earlier], I would have spent more time with my son,” he said.
He told jurors that Ronnie had forgiven him for his absences during his childhood and deserved his support. Still, he denounced his son’s actions.
“I am disappointed in my son. As a matter of fact, most times, I’m angry,” he said. “But what am I supposed to do? I am really between a rock and a hard place. Law enforcement is my life. I came from the bottom and rose to the top.”
He’d endured the killings of officers in his own department. He said he could understand why the Prince William commonwealth’s attorney was seeking a harsh punishment.
“I see the prosecutor’s side and defense side, and I can sit on either side. I feel the pain. I understand the duty,” he said. “I’ve been given forgiveness by my son, by my wife. We just got to reach back and forgive.”
Under cross-examination, he was more blunt: “If anyone in this courtroom had their relative sitting where my son was, they’d be asking for mercy.”
Earlier in the day, a nephew of Ronnie’s testified about a video he’d taken of Ronnie and Crystal Hamilton at Thanksgiving in 2013. When it was Ronnie’s turn to say what he was grateful for, he talked about his wife, a recovery care coordinator for wounded Marines.
“She stood by me through thick and thin,” he told the camera. “I would marry her a hundred times over, and I would like to know if she would do the same and if she would marry me a hundred times over.”
He then knelt down and placed a wedding band on her finger.