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Cold case murder suspects lived free for a decade

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The two men accused of the Jan. 28, 2006, murder of Anthony Hamlin beat him to death in a Ledyard field after deciding to rob him for drug money, then stripped him naked to avoid leaving behind their blood or fingerprints, according to a newly-unsealed arrest warrant affidavit.

For the next 10 years, they lived free.

Timothy P. Johnson and Christopher P. Vincenti, who were 21 years old at the time, burned and bleached away physical evidence of the crime and left the area, according to the affidavit. They both had returned to southeastern Connecticut by September 2016, when somebody close to Johnson came forward and provided state police detectives with information that helped them solve the cold case murder.

Johnson and Vincenti were charged in October with felony murder. Both have pleaded not guilty and are being held in lieu of $1 million bonds while their cases are pending in New London Superior Court.

The warrant affidavit in Johnson's case, which includes a narrative of his videotaped confession, has been unsealed. The affidavit in Vincenti's case remains sealed temporarily.

Identified only as "Witness 4" in the affidavit, the informant called the Eastern District Major Crime Squad on Sept. 14 and identified Johnson and Vincenti as the killers. He said he was not providing the information solely for the $50,000 reward, but because it was the right thing to do and that the two men are dangerous people who were still walking around freely.

The witness said Johnson and Vincenti were good friends who had attended East Lyme High together, drank to get drunk almost daily and used drugs often, including marijuana and pain killers. He said that as teenagers, they and others "beat up a kid and hospitalized him."

Johnson was charged in October 2000 with second-degree assault, third-degree assault, reckless endangerment and two other charges, according to the affidavit. Because he was 16 years old at the time, details of the case are under seal.

According to the affidavit, which was written by State Police Detective Ryan Luther, a female friend had dropped Hamlin off in downtown New London at 10:30 p.m. on Jan. 27, 2006, and given him $140. Hamlin was planning to leave for Virginia, where he had relatives, on the 11 p.m. train.

Instead, the 40-year-old agreed to go to a strip club with Johnson and Vincenti, whom he met on the sidewalk outside an unidentified Bank Street bar, according to the affidavit. All three men had been drinking, and Hamlin's blood alcohol level was .22 when tested during his autopsy examination, according to the affidavit. Hamlin had no other substances in his system.

In a videotaped interview with detectives Luther and David Lamoureux, Johnson said he and Vincenti met Hamlin after coming out of the bar. He said that after he said, "What's up?" to Hamlin, the three men started talking and decided to go to a strip club in Groton. They drove in a gray Ford Ranger pickup truck, registered to Vincenti's father and later to Vincenti, according to the affidavit. The whereabouts of the truck, which was registered to Vincenti until 2014, are not revealed in the affidavit.

Johnson said they drove over the Gold Star Bridge and exited onto Route 184 in Groton. Not sure where the strip club was located, they continued driving toward Ledyard, and at one point took a left and a right, according to the affidavit. Johnson said he drove into a Ledyard field so they all could urinate.

"As I got out of the truck to urinate, I all of the sudden had an idea to take Anthony's money," Johnson said.

Johnson told police he had spent all of his money at the bar and wanted money for drugs. He said he knew Hamlin had money because he had seen Hamlin giving Vincenti $20.

Johnson told his plan to Vincenti, who grabbed a piece of wood from inside the cab of the pickup. Johnson said the wood was about a foot long and rounded, like a rod in a coat closet. As they were all standing in the field, he said he tried to punch Hamlin, but ended up falling on the ground. Hamlin was just standing there, Johnson said, and he said, "Help," to Vincenti.

Vincenti hit Hamlin in the head about three times with the wood, Johnson said. Hamlin, who looked shocked, fell to the ground after the first strike. Johnson said he got up and helped Vincenti, "because he had helped me." Johnson said he punched Hamlin with a closed fist on the side of his face and kicked him in the crotch.

Hamlin, who was not moving and was bleeding from the head and face, had no pulse, according to Johnson. He said he removed Hamlin's clothes and sneakers. He said they decided to take Hamlin to the hospital and put him in the bed of the pickup truck. Johnson said he doesn't remember if he closed the tail-gate or not as they drove out of the field, but that when they looked in the pickup truck, Hamlin was not there.

"I wasn't sure if he had came to and jumped out, or if he had fallen out," Johnson said.

Johnson said as they drove back to his house in Lebanon, he wiped blood off his hands using Hamlin's clothes. He said neither he nor Vincenti were injured. They found $100 in Hamlin's wallet and drove in a different car to New London, where they bought pills. Johnson said that he was addicted to opioid painkillers at the time.  

Vincenti said his wallet was missing, so at daybreak, they drove back toward the Ledyard field, but the road was blocked off for the investigation, Johnson said. Later that day, they burned Hamlin's clothes, the clothes they were wearing and the wood used to beat Hamlin in a fire pit behind Johnson's house. They removed the battery from Hamlin's cellphone. They threw the battery in a pond, smashed the cellphone and threw it in the woods. Vincenti washed his truck. Some time that day, he found his wallet.

Johnson's mother, who also provided a statement to police, said she was away at a yoga retreat that night, but when she came home the next day, she could see by Johnson's and Vincent's faces and body language that something was wrong. She said Johnson told her that he and Vincenti fought with gang members while trying to buy drugs in New London and that they were in fear for their lives. She said she sent them to stay at her cottage at Lake Hayward in East Haddam for a few days and later sent Johnson to San Diego.

According to the initial witness who came forward, Johnson went to Hawaii and did not return to Connecticut until 2008, and Vincenti went to Florida.

Johnson, accompanied by his attorney, went to the Shewville Road field with detectives on Sept. 28, 2016, but did not recognize the scene, according to the affidavit. The field, which had short brown grass, no leaves and little brush in January 2006, now had thick green grass and more brush and vegetation near the entrances.

Monday was the first time that Hamlin's mother, Darlene Hamlin, heard some of the details of her son's violent death. In his confession to police this fall Johnson said he hadn't meant for Hamlin to die and that he was glad he finally got caught and hopes it brings some relief to Hamlin's mother and his children.

"It gives me the relief knowing you got caught, but you covered this up for 10 years," Hamlin said after being told of the statement over the phone. "Who else knew about this? You didn't have to kill him. That's what bothers me."

k.florin@theday.com

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