Sharon Guindon had largely kept quiet since her only child — just 28 years old — became the first Prince William officer killed in the line of duty by gunfire since 1990. But as a jury weighs whether to give a death sentence, she swiveled in the witness stand to face the murderer and declared: “Ronald Hamilton, you took the one person that meant the world to me. I have an emptiness that will haunt me for the rest of my life.”
Hamilton, 34, who was an Army staff sergeant, covered his face with his hands as she spoke. He shot his wife, Crystal Hamilton, at their Woodbridge, Va., home during an argument the night of Feb. 27, 2016. When police arrived, Hamilton fired at three officers, wounding two and killing Ashley Guindon, a former Marine reservist who had been sworn in as a Prince William officer only the day before.
Sharon Guindon’s gutting remarks — along with the emotional testimony of Crystal Hamilton’s mother, Cherry Murphy — were the final piece in the prosecution’s argument to impose the death sentence. If the 12 jurors agree, he would become the fourth person on Virginia’s death row.
Hamilton’s defense team plans to call friends, relatives and colleagues, including some from the military, to testify on his behalf. It’s unclear whether Hamilton will go on the stand himself.
Even before the mothers were called to the witness stand, many in the courtroom pews were already tearing up in anticipation. Officials passed a tissue box to Guindon and her brother, Walter Nowak. Numerous members of Prince William’s police force, including chief Barry M. Barnard, sat behind the prosecutor’s table.
On the witness stand, Guindon recounted how she learned her daughter had been shot. She had been relaxing at her New Hampshire home when her phone rang. The number was from Virginia, so she thought it was Ashley.
“I heard a man’s voice,” Guindon said. “I knew it was something bad.”
The man told her that Ashley had been shot and was in a hospital. Moments later, Merrimack, N.H., police officers were at the front door. They tried to calm her and asked if she had anyone close who could come over. She said she had a neighbor, but that was it.
Guindon is a widow; her husband, David Guindon, 48, a tech sergeant in the Air National Guard, shot himself to death in 2004 the day after coming home from an Iraq deployment.
After learning Ashley had been shot, she reached a nurse at Inova Fairfax Hospital, who told her that she needed to get there by the evening. But Guindon said the earliest she could make it was by morning. Guindon asked where her daughter was hit, and the nurse said the shoulder.
“I said, ‘Is she going to survive?’ and [the nurse] said, ‘Yes,’ ” Guindon recalled. “Thank God. She’s going to make it. I felt so grateful.”
But suddenly more police showed up at her house. An officer arrived and handed her a cellphone. It was the doctor overseeing the rescue.
“She told me Ashley had died. . . . She tried everything to save her life,” Guindon recalled. “I just collapsed. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.”
Many of the 12 jurors tried to hold back tears, rubbing their eyes. Hamilton kept his hands over his face. At one point, he could be seen from behind shaking.
“It felt surreal. Where do I go from here now? She was my only daughter. She was my only child,” Guindon said.
She reminisced about the time Ashley learned how to ride a bike without training wheels and her early interest as a teenager to one day become a model or actress. “She was truly a fashionista,” Guindon said. Her daughter got into gymnastics, cheerleading and loved collecting purses, shoes, clothes and makeup.
Guindon said her late husband and Ashley shared a bond.
Without mentioning his suicide, Guindon said, “her father died while serving his country . . . they both were motivated by love of country.”
At Merrimack High School, Ashley joined the JROTC, graduating in 2005. In 2007, she enlisted in the Marine Reserve and, according to her police biography, later graduated from EmbryRiddle Aeronautical University in Florida. After moving to Virginia, she applied to become a Prince William police officer and was sworn in on Feb. 26, 2016. The department tweeted out a photo of her and said, “Be safe!”
The loss of her daughter, Guindon testified, also meant the loss of unmet hopes. “I’ll never be the mother to the bride,” she said, “or a grandmother.”
Ashley, she said, wanted three children.
“I will never get to hold those children,” Guindon said.
During her testimony, Crystal’s mother, Cherry Murphy, was equally distraught.
She’d driven from her home, then in South Carolina, to the scene of the crime on the 13000 block of Lashmere Court in Woodbridge. When she arrived, she asked, “Where is Crystal?”
An FBI agent said she was sorry.
“That’s all I remember,” Murphy said, adding that she’d then lost consciousness briefly.
“I’m broken. My life will never be the same again. When she died, I died along with her,” she testified.
During a break in the hearing, a Washington Post reporter asked Murphy if she hoped the jury would sentence Hamilton to death. She said yes.
Correction: An earlier version of this story did not make it clear that Ashley Guindon was the first Prince William officer killed by gunfire in the line of duty since 1990.