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RICHARD HAMLIN CONVICTED OF TORTURE
VERDICT CARRIES LIFE SENTENCE

by Virginia McCullough

Early risers in Placerville, California found the air outside freshly washed from yesterday's rain and the temperature cold enough to wake one up quickly on Tuesday morning, January 10, 2005. The two lane main street in Old Hangtown is alive with traffic by 6:00 a.m. on weekday mornings.  By 8:15 a.m. the third floor hallway of the town's old courthouse was crowded with prospective jurors waiting to be called into Judge James Wagoner's courtroom.  Occupying several chairs in front of Judge Eddie Keller's courtroom were members of the media quietly talking about the anticipated verdict that would end the lengthy trial of Richard W. Hamlin.  Sitting on the floor with his back resting against the clerk's office wall was Sacramento Bee photographer Paul Kitagaki Jr. surrounded by cameras and cell phones, the tools of his trade.  As the morning hours passed and potential jurors disappeared behind closed doors eventually only the media remained waiting until finally just before noon Judge Keller left the building as a deputy locked his courtroom doors behind him.  Lunch hour had arrived and those remaining dispersed to eat at several of the fine restaurants in town.

No sooner had hungry reporters picked up their eating utensils than word spread that the Hamlin jury would return with their verdict at 1:15 p.m. Food disappeared from their plates and was quickly washed down with various liquids, bills were hurriedly paid and, as if by magic, the upstairs hallway of Placerville's courthouse once again became alive with people.  Susan Hamlin, her two sons, her sister and various supporters sat in chairs along the wall of Judge Keller's courtroom.  The remainder of the chairs were all occupied and there was standing room only for those waiting to hear the Hamlin verdict.  When the deputy finally opened the courtroom doors Mrs. Hamlin and her entourage were shown to seats in the front row directly behind the prosecution's table.  In a criminal trial the front row of a courtroom is normally kept empty as an added security buffer.  This day, however, the front row directly behind the defense counsel held all of the clerks that so efficiently support the court's function.

Judge Keller soon took the bench and then the audience turned as a single person to study the serious faces of the jurors as they entered the jury box.  Once they were all seated Judge Keller addressed those assembled.  He began by stating that he knew that all present were aware that this was a historic case.  He said that this was the longest case that he had ever presided over or remembered in his career and that the jury deliberations had lasted longer then any other in his memory.  Then he turned his attention to the jury and called them remarkable people who had approached their civil duty with dedication and a sense of responsibility that should serve as an example.  He acknowledged that this emotional case had disrupted their lives for over two months.  He thanked them for taking their duty so seriously.

Judge Keller then asked the jury forewoman to report on how many of the 18 counts the jury had brought back verdicts.  The forewoman, an attractive woman appearing in her early thirties, stated they had verdicts on all but three counts and on those they were hopelessly deadlocked.  His honor then requested a numbers only count on each of the deadlocked counts indicating how the jury was split. The lady answered they were split 8 to 4 on two counts and 7 to 5 on the remaining count. The hard copy recordations of the verdicts were then handed to the judge.  Judge Keller has the ultimate poker face but his review of the first piece of paper caused his brows to narrow and his cheeks to slightly twitch .  He continued to leaf through the remainder of the papers, then paused and went through them again.  Lightly tapping the top page and pausing he asked a question of the fore person about Count Five, then quickly answered his own question and moved on to flip through the entire stack one final time.  Satisfied all was in order he handed the verdicts to his lady clerk with the long blond hair and requested that she read the verdicts.

Count One was a verdict that rumor speculated had been arrived at the by the jury the previous week.  The jury was apparently unaware of the fact it was by far the most serious charge facing the 45-year-old Richard Hamlin.  This was the charge of "torture" and it carries the term of life in prison. The charge read:

On or between the 1st day of June, 2003 and the 28the day of February, 2004, in the County of El Dorado, the crime of TORTURE, in violation of PENAL CODE SECTION 206, a Felony, was committed by RICHARD W. HAMLIN, who did unlawfully and with the intent to cause cruel and extreme pain and suffering for the purpose of revenge, extortion, persuasion and for a sadistic purpose, inflict great bodily injury, as defined in Penal Code Section 1202.7, upon Susan Hamlin.

As the clerk read the verdict of GUILTY one could hear a faint gasp from the audience that brought a stern look from Judge Keller.  This reaction brought a look of puzzlement to the face of several jurors.

Counts Two through Four dealt with charges of felony child abuse and endangerment.  Each count alleged that Richard W. Hamlin caused his child "to suffer unjustifiable physical pain and mental suffering or to be placed in such a situation that his/her person and health may be endangered".  Each count named one of the three children who had testified during the opening stages of the trial.  Each count also covered the same time frame from the 1st day of November 2003 to the 26th day of February 2004, the day the children were placed in protective custody. In each instance the jury found Richard Hamlin NOT GUILTY of the felony charges.  However, they did find him GUILTY of a lesser included misdemeanor counts of Penal Code 273a(b) "willfully causing a child to suffer unjustified mental suffering".

Count Five alleged that on or about the 17th day of September 2003 Richard Hamlin committed the crime of "ASSAULT BY MEANS OF FORCE LIKELY TO PRODUCE GREAT BODILY INJURY in violation of PENAL CODE SECTION 245(a)(1)", a Felony upon Susan Hamlin. The jury was DEADLOCKED on this charge.

Count Six specified that between the 1st day of January and the 28th day of February 2004, the day Hamlin was arrested, he "did willfully and unlawfully threaten to commit a crime which would result in death and great bodily injury to Susan Hamlin, with the specific intent that the statement by taken as a threat", a Felony under PENAL CODE SECTION 422.  The jury reached a verdict of GUILTY on this count.

Count Seven narrowed the time line to between the 1st day of February 2004 and the 15th day of February 2004 and specified that Richard Hamlin inflicted corporal injury upon Susan Hamlin resulting in a traumatic condition to Susan.  The jury determined Hamlin was NOT GUILTY of this charge.

Count Eight covered the same time frame as County Seven and alleged FALSE IMPRISONMENT in violation of PENAL CODE SECTION 236, a Felony.  Susan Hamlin was alleged to be the victim.  Richard Hamlin was found NOT GUILTY of this count.

Count Nine occurred between the 1st day of June 2003, an the 28th day of February 2004 and alleged CORPORAL INJURY TO SPOUSE resulting in a traumatic condition upon Susan Hamlin in violation of PENAL CODE SECTION 273.5(a), a Felony.  The jury returned a verdict of GUILTY to this charge.  Attached to this charge was a special allegation alleging that Richard Hamlin, in the commission of Count Nine, inflicted great bodily injury on his wife.  The jury found him NOT GUILTY of this special allegation.

Count Ten addressed an incident on or between the 10th day of February, and the 11th day of February 2004.  This incident involved an assault Susan Hamlin allegedly suffered from a sword wielded by Richard Hamlin.  The charge was "ASSAULT WITH DEADLY WEAPON BY MEANS LIKELY TO PRODUCE GBI (Great Bodily Injury), a Felony, in violation of PENAL CODE SECTION 422."   Richard Hamlin was found NOT GUILTY of this charge.

Count Eleven also covered the same dates of February 10 and 11th, 2004.  This alleged felony was "CRIMINAL THREATS, in violation of PENAL CODE SECTION 422" committed by Richard Hamlin who allegedly threatened to commit a crime which would result in death and great bodily injury to Susan Hamlin.  Once again the jury found he was NOT GUILTY of this charge.  This allegation also had a special allegation attached to it alleging that Hamlin was armed with a firearm while committing the offense.  The jury found a NOT GUILTY verdict.

Count Twelve again covered February 10th and 11th, 2004.  The alleged crime was "FALSE IMPRISONMENT BY VIOLENCE, in violation of PENAL CODE SECTION 236", a Felony against Susan Hamlin.  It also carried the use of a firearm as a special allegation. The jury found Richard Hamlin NOT GUILTY of both County Twelve and the special allegation.

Count Thirteen alleged that on or about the 11th day of February, 2004, Richard Hamlin inflicted "CORPORAL INJURY TO SPOUSE, in violation of PENAL CODE SECTION 273.5(a), a Felony".  It also specified that the corporal injury inflicted resulted in a traumatic condition upon Susan Hamlin. The jury verdict was GUILTY of this charge.

Count Fourteen also dealt with February 11th, 2004, and alleged a "crime of CORPORAL INJURY TO SPOUSE, in violation of PENAL CODE SECTION 245(a)(1), a Felony", was committed by Richard Hamlin, who did commit an assault upon Susan Hamlin with a gun and by means of force likely to produce great bodily injury.  The jury was DEADLOCKED on both this count and the special allegation of use of a firearm.

Count Fifteen also dealt with the events of the 11th day of February, 2004, and specified the crime of "CRIMINAL THREATS, in violation of PENAL CODE SECTION 422, a Felony, was committed by Richard Hamlin against Susan Hamlin. The special allegation was use of a firearm including "DISCHARGE OF FIREARM WITH GROSS NEGLIGENCE, in violation of PENAL CODE SECTION 246.3".  The jury found Richard Hamlin NOT GUILTY of both the count and the special allegation.

Count Sixteen charged that on or between the 21s day of February, 2004, and the 22nd day of February, 2004, Richard Hamlin DISCHARGED A FIREARM WITH GROSS NEGLIGENCE, in violation of PENAL CODE SECTION 246.3, a Felony.  He was found NOT GUILTY of this count.

Count Seventeen charged that "on or between the 1st day of February, 2004, and the 26th day of February, 2004, the crime of CORPORAL INJURY TO SPOUSE in violation of PENAL CODE SECTION 273.5(a), a Felony was committed by Richard W. Hamlin, who did inflict corporal injury resulting in a traumatic condition upon Susan Hamlin".   The jury found him GUILTY of this charge.  However, it is very important to note that the prosecution had also attached a special allegation to this count alleging that Richard Hamlin inflicted great bodily injury upon Susan Hamlin. The jury found Hamlin NOT GUILTY of great bodily injury.  This fine distinction between the definitions of  "corporal injury" and "great bodily injury" demonstrates how careful this jury was to examine the actions and injuries alleged in the indictment.

Finally Count Eighteen alleged that on or between the 1st day of February, 2004, and the 26th day of February, 2004, Richard Hamlin committed the crime of "ASSAULT BY MEANS OF FORCE LIKELY TO PRODUCE GREAT BODILY INJURY, in violation of PENAL CODE SECTION 245(a)(1), a Felony, upon Susan Hamlin".  The jury again found Richard Hamlin NOT GUILTY.

The reading of the verdict was concluded and Judge Eddie Keller again thanked the jury for their service, telling them that they were now free to speak with anyone if they so desired.  A final sidebar was called to set post-trial timing and a Friday hearing date of January 13, 2005.

The quiet audience slowly filed out of the courtroom and once again gathered in the hallway outside.  A male member of the jury approached the prosecutor Vicki Ashworth and investigator Rich Strasser and asked for their business cards saying that he wanted some explanation about what had happened in this case.  Other jury members accepted cards from media representatives and indicated that when some time had passed they would be available for interviews.

Susan Hamlin and her sons were surrounded by friends and family gathering once again against the wall of Judge Keller's courtroom.  The emotion of the afternoon showed when the newly divorced mother of four briefly cried while expressing her desire to begin a new life helping other abused women find a way out.  Hamlin's eighteen-year-old son Ryan, now attending community college, sat protectively next to his young brother Alec whose eyes were moist with unshed tears.  Susan's sister ushered the boys downstairs and out of the courthouse as Susan Hamlin remained in the hallway just outside the jury room talking with Detective Strasser.

Just a few steps further down that same hallway, the door stood open to the now empty 12 X 20 foot jury room.  The blue rolling desk chairs were pushed away at various angles from the long conference table that was cluttered with assorted scraps of paper, paper clips and a pencil or two.  The room had a unisex bathroom off to the right hand side and contained a television screen to play video evidence, a microwave and a small refrigerator.  Next to these conveniences stood an overflowing wastebasket topped by numerous empty coffee cups. Just a few hours ago twelve people who had originally entered this room as strangers determined that they had reached the end of a long adventure traveling together down the rough road of Justice.  The spirits of their struggle were still present here and in the courtroom next door.

In that near empty courtroom, Judge Keller sat quietly at his bench staring downward.  Members of his staff were gathering up paperwork and laying out the case files and evidence to begin a new case.  The photographers had taken their last photos for tomorrow's newspapers and were preparing to leave.  For a room that had just held so much anticipation that quickly dissolved into high emotion it was now suddenly lifeless and extremely quiet.  Two male deputies stood silently next to a door opposite the jury box.

Two downcast figures stood side by side at the defense table.  The larger man in the dark suit and maroon tie used his right hand to occasionally rub his eyes until finally his fingers came to rest beside his mouth.  The good looking man in the gold colored suit and matching tie assembled his belongings into his briefcase as he stole concerned glances at his defendant and co-counsel.  Eventually a stunned Richard Hamlin and somber looking public defender Bob Banning left the courtroom, the later to return to his office and later to his home and the former to return to the El Dorado County Jail in the company of deputies.  Barring special intervention by Judge Eddie Keller or unexpected events, Richard Hamlin will be spending the rest of his life in prison.

Virginia McCullough © 1/12/06


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