Justice is imperfect for family members of homicide victim Anthony Hamlin
The family of homicide victim Anthony Hamlin had waited more than a decade to tell his killers of their pain and suffering in the years since he was beaten to death and dumped in a Ledyard field on Jan. 28, 2006.
On Monday they had their chance as Christopher P. Vincenti, 33, was sentenced to 20 years in prison in New London Superior Court for first-degree manslaughter. Several generations and branches of Hamlin's family filled rows of courtroom benches, alternately expressing grief, anger and their struggle for forgiveness and peace.
On Tuesday, the family will return to court for the sentencing of Hamlin's other killer, Timothy P. Johnson. When the drug and alcohol-fueled crime Vincenti and Johnson committed as 21-year-olds finally came to light and they were arrested, the two men, who had attended East Lyme High School together, both provided confessions and pleaded guilty within months of their arrests.
"The act that Mr. Vincenti and Mr. Johnson did was an act that ultimately metastasized and went out to the family, causing a dark hole in their lives," said prosecutor David J. Smith.
Hamlin was waiting for a train in New London when he met the two men in front of a downtown bar, according to testimony. They decided to go to a Groton strip club together, but got lost. When they pulled into a field off Shewville Road to urinate, Johnson decided to rob Hamlin so he could buy drugs. Johnson told his plan to Vincenti, who grabbed a piece of wood from inside the cab of the pickup. The men beat Hamlin with the wood and punched and kicked him, causing him fatal blunt traumatic injuries. They removed his clothes and used the $140 in his wallet to buy drugs.
The prosecutor's recitation of the circumstances brought a flood of tears to the side of the courtroom occupied by his loved ones, and some continued to cry until they left court almost an hour later.
The 40-year-old Hamlin, affectionately known as "Ant" had five children, worked as a surveyor's assistant and was a member of the Eastern Pequot Tribal Nation. He was planning to catch a train to Virginia and start a new job when he met the two men who ended his life.
"You have no idea of the devastation you've caused our family," said the victim's sister, Cassandra Rookwood.
Hamlin's oldest daughter, Bethany, said her father was "a bright light in a dark room," and that her siblings could barely remember him, since they were so young when he died. Now, she said, "We have exhausted the ones (memories) we have left."
His younger brother, Richard Hadley, turned to Vincenti, who stood with his attorney, and told him he wants him to think about Hamlin every day. If it was allowed in the United States, Hadley said, "I would say you die the same way he died."
"To me, you're a coward," Hadley said. "That was a punk thing you did. This is the first time I've laid eyes on you, but I'll never forget how you look, bro. Ant, Tony, Dad, Uncle: He didn't deserve to be tag teamed. He didn't deserve to be left like that."
His mother, Darlene Hamlin, held up a photograph of his children and turned to Vincenti's family members, who occupied the other side of the courtroom. She spoke of family members' nervous breakdowns, lost homes, lost jobs, false suspicions of one another and within their tribal community and their never-ending grief.
"They stripped my son naked," she said. "No shame. No respect. It was enough that you killed him, but then you had to strip him."
She said the 20-year sentence that came with Vincenti's plea deal was "a slap in the face" and that if her son, a man of color, had killed Vincenti, who is white, there is no way he would get 20 years.
"Twenty years is not enough for the murder of my son, and I'll say that until the day I die," she said.
The oldest family member, Hamlin's 89-year-old grandfather, did not address the court but said out in the hallway that he wished to be quoted.
"They took my first grandson away, and I think they should go out the same way," said David Hamlin.
State police Eastern District Major Crime Squad detective Ryan Luther, who had kept in touch with the grieving family members and followed lead after lead to their dead ends, listened from the back of the courtroom. It was only after someone close to Johnson came forward with information that the two defendants were identified and arrested.
"My family suffered for ten years, until one day an angel came into our lives and saw we were suffering," Darlene Hamlin said.
The victim's fiancée, Anita Torres McMahon, lives out of state and asked a friend to read statements from her and her daughter Tania. McMahon said she suffered from guilt all these years because she had gone out with a friend to celebrate her birthday that night and turned off her phone. She and Hamlin had not been getting along prior to his death, though they still loved one another deeply, according to family members.
Not only did Vincenti and Johnson take the father of her children, she said, but they "left him to die in a field, alone and naked."
"That will be embedded in my memory until the day I die," said McMahon.
Vincenti's mother Catherine stood up to tell the Hamlin family how sorry she and her husband are for their loss.
"I understand you're angry," she said. "I firmly believe he would have never gotten involved unless he was under the extreme influence of alcohol and drugs."
Vincenti's attorney, Christopher Morano, said he has never seen a client so genuinely remorseful. He said that when he drove him up Route 32 to turn himself in at Troop E last year, Vincenti looked to the right as they drove by Corrigan-Radgowski Correctional Institution and told Morano that every time he drove by there for the past 10 years, he thought, "That's where I belong."
Vincenti spoke only briefly.
"From the bottom of my heart, I just want to apologize," he said. "I regret that I didn't have the courage to come forward 10 years ago."
He was, he said, ready to accept his punishment.
Judge Hillary B. Strackbein imposed the sentence and told the family she hopes they can go forward with their lives. She said the pain of their loss was exacerbated because for so long, they didn't know who was responsible.
"Mr. Hamlin would have wanted you to go forward with your lives and be happy," Strackbein said.
MOST VIEWED MEDIA
MOST DISCUSSED STORIES