Judge authorizes $50,000 reward in Hamlin homicide case

The reward offers advertised in police station lobbies, circulated among state prisoners on playing cards and displayed on a Division of Criminal Justice website generate leads, and sometimes help detectives solve a crime after years of fruitless investigation.

"Rewards are almost a last resort tool the state uses," Inspector Philip Fazzino of the New London State's Attorney's Office said Friday.

The state exhausts its other investigative means, then turns to the public to help catch killers. The state's attorney's office asks the governor to authorize monetary rewards to be paid for information leading to arrests and convictions. And when somebody does help solve a crime, a relatively rare occurrence, the state honors its offer.

In 22 years as an inspector, Fazzino said he's aware of only four rewards paid in the New London Judicial District, including the $50,000 that Superior Court Judge Hillary B. Strackbein ordered disbursed Friday to 33-year-old area resident Justin Messervy in the case of homicide victim Anthony Hamlin. The 40-year-old Eastern Pequot Tribal member had been fatally beaten and left in a field on Shewville Road in Ledyard on Jan. 28, 2006.

In September, after living free for a decade after the deadly attack, his two killers, Christopher Vincenti and Timothy Johnson, were sentenced to 20 years and 19.5 years, respectively, having pleaded guilty to first-degree manslaughter. Vincenti and Johnson, both 21 when the crime occurred, were not known criminals. But when detectives confronted them after Messervy identified them as the killers, they admitted they had befriended Hamlin in downtown New London on Jan. 27, 2006. They said they decided to go to a strip joint in Groton, then got lost and ended up in a field on Shewville Road in Ledyard, where they fatally beat Hamlin after deciding to rob him for money to buy drugs.

Messervy applied for the reward, though he said by text last week that his primary reason for coming forward was not for the money, but because it was "the right thing to do."

As required by law, the trial judge, Strackbein, conducted a hearing on the application Friday. Messervy attended, but did not speak. Under questioning by prosecutor David J. Smith, state police Detective David Lamoureux testified that without the information Messervy provided in September 2016, the state could not have solved the crime.

"He had specific information and identified Chris Vincenti and Timothy Johnson as the men responsible for the murder," Lamoureux testified.

The judge ruled that Messervy "provided significant information that directly led to the arrest and conviction of the guilty parties in the death of Anthony Hamlin." She authorized the reward, but with a hitch. Messervy is in the midst of a divorce, and his soon-to-be ex wife wrote to the judge to request a share of the award. Strackbein ordered that the disbursement of the reward be determined by the Norwich judge who is handling the divorce.

Hamlin's family members, relieved to finally know what happened to "Ant," call Messervy their "angel." They met him recently and said he would be invited to a future family gathering.

The last reward paid in New London Superior Court was split between two people who provided information that led to the conviction in 2012 of Dickie E. Anderson Jr. for the 1997 strangling death of Renee Pellegrino in Waterford. Anderson had taken his case to trial, and the recipients had to wait until he exhausted his appeals. He is serving a 60-year prison sentence.

The governor's office has authorized rewards in other unsolved homicide cases in the region. They include the cases of Kyle Seidel, 34, of Waterford in 2012; 26-year-old Erika Cirioni of Norwich in 2006; Christopher Schmeller, 31, of Westerly in 2002; Michael Mosher, 24, of Ledyard in 1996; William Spicer, 82, of Groton in 1995; and Desiree Michaud, 18, of Norwich in 1984.

"I'd love to have someone step forward with new, valuable information in any of those cases," Fazzino said.

Anyone with information can call the New London State's Attorney's Office at (860) 443-2835.

k.florin@theday.com

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