Families of victim, killer united in suffering at sentencing hearing

The mother of homicide victim Anthony Hamlin hugged the mother of one of his killers Tuesday in New London Superior Court during a sentencing hearing fraught with the conflicting emotions of both families.

"It was just something that came over me," Darlene Hamlin said later. "Knowing she's a mother and I'm a mother. The pain she and her family were feeling and the pain I'm feeling somehow turned into compassion. The embracing was like saying, 'I know your pain. I know what you're suffering. I know what you have been through.'"

Timothy Johnson, 33, had pleaded guilty to first-degree manslaughter in the Jan. 28, 2006, fatal beating of Anthony Hamlin, and on Tuesday appeared before Judge Hillary B. Strackbein to receive a 19.5-year sentence. His codefendant, Christopher Vincenti, had received a 20-year sentence Monday.

Twenty years is the maximum sentence for first-degree manslaughter.

Johnson and Vincenti, who had attended East Lyme High School together, met Hamlin in downtown New London, befriended him, then killed him for drug money, according to testimony. They stripped him naked, left him in a field off Shewville Road and kept their crime a secret for a decade before somebody close to Johnson came forward.

Johnson's mother, Tracy Messervy, spoke on her son's behalf after listening to Hamlin's mother describe her family's enduring suffering since the 40-year-old father of five's life ended in a violent and undignified manner in a Ledyard field. She said she loves her son with all her heart and that his life has been "a misery" for the past 10 years. She said he would now willingly do his prison time.

Speaking softly, Messervy looked over at Darlene Hamlin, who over the years had granted interviews and organized vigils to keep her son's memory alive and maybe tease out the people responsible for his death.

"What an amazing woman you are," Messervy said. "I want you to know my family is here to support Timmy because we love him. But we also came to stand and hear the things you have to say, because it was important to hear them."

As Johnson rose from his seat at the defense table to offer his own apology, his mother and Hamlin's mother stood crying and hugging in the aisle of the courtroom gallery.

Sitting beside his attorney, Bruce McIntyre, Johnson had kept his head down for most of the hearing, though he complied when the victim's oldest daughter, Bethany Hamlin, demanded he look over at a photograph she displayed of the two grandsons Anthony Hamlin would never get to meet.

"It's not possible for me to express how sorry I am knowing a fellow human being is no longer with his family," Johnson said to the family. "I often think about the impact this tragedy must have had and continues to have on you."

He said he wishes every day that he could go back and undo his acts.

Hamlin's family is not satisfied with the plea deals his killers received, but took time Tuesday to thank those who had helped them through the criminal justice process, including prosecutor David J. Smith, Victim Advocate Beth Ann Hess, state police Detective Ryan Luther and Inspector Phil Fazzino. Members of Survivors of Homicide also had worked with the family up to and during the court proceedings.

Hamlin's brother, Richard Hadley, who called both of Hamlin's killers cowards and punks during his victim impact statements, softened a little after listening to Johnson's uncle, Luke Messervy, address the court.

"I want to express on behalf of our family our deep sorrow," Messervy had said. "We don't pretend for a minute to understand what you're going through. We pray your family will be able to heal as good as possible. We know it will never be right."

The uncle said that Johnson was a great kid growing up, but something went wrong around high school age. After hearing several of Hamlin's family members remark that Hamlin would have gladly shared his money with Vincenti and Johnson that night and describe the joy Hamlin took in being a family man, the uncle said Hamlin sounded like "a guy I would have wanted to know."

Hadley offered his hand and then embraced the uncle in the courtroom. Hadley said later that he knew the uncle "came from a sincere heart" and appreciated what he had said.

"It was a powerful example of what needs to be done for yourself as well as others," Hadley said of the embrace. "That's forgiving. As soon as you can forgive others, you'll be able to move on."

Judge Strackbein said the case demonstrated that the desire for and use of drugs is a "complete scourge." She told the Hamlins that closure is tough, but she hopes that the years of suffering come to an end.

"I hope as the years go on, your happier memories will take the place of these horrible memories," she said.

As for Johnson, who still had his head down on the defense table, Strackbein said, "Even though he didn't come forward, he had a self-imposed prison by the guilt." 

k.florin@theday.com

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