MANASSAS, Va. — It began with an argument between husband and wife over whether she’d attend a male dance revue. It ended with the wife dead, a police officer fatally wounded and two other officers shot and bleeding on a suburban northern Virginia lawn.
Jurors heard opening statements Tuesday in the death-penalty trial of an Army staff sergeant charged with killing his wife and one of the officers, who responded to the scene on her very first shift. The two other officers survived, but suffered serious injuries.
Ronald Hamilton, 34, an Army staff sergeant from Woodbridge, is charged with capital murder and other counts in the deaths of his wife, Crystal Hamilton, and Officer Ashley Guindon, a former Marine Corps reservist.
On her first day on the job, Officer Ashley Guindon responded to a call that could have become routine, had she gone on to a long career in law enforcement: a domestic disturbance in a well-kept suburban neighborhood.
Prosecutor Brian Boyle told jurors in opening statements that Hamilton's actions reverberated beyond the Hamilton and Guindon families.
"By the time he was done unleashing his violence, a neighborhood was scarred, a police department was devastated, three police officers were on operating tables and only two would survive," Boyle said. "A son was left without a mother."
Boyle said Guindon and the other officers arrived just a few minutes after Crystal made her 911 call. Officer Jesse Hempen arrived first, and asked Ronald Hamilton to let him in to check on the welfare of his wife. As Hamilton shut the door, a second officer, David McKeown, arrived with Guindon and tried to use his foot to force his way into the home. It was then that Hamilton began shooting at the officers with a military-style rifle. One of the officers, despite his wounds, was able to radio his colleagues a "signal one," meaning an officer was down. That prompted a massive police response.
Boyle said that when officers arrived, "bodies are littered across the front yard of the Hamilton residence. ... As the officers come in all they see are heaps of bright blue" from the officers' uniforms.
Defense attorneys acknowledged that Hamilton committed the shootings. Indeed, they offered shortly after Hamilton's arrest to plead guilty and accept a life sentence if prosecutors took the death penalty off the table. The prosecutors declined.
What is in dispute is Hamilton's state of mind at the time of the shootings, said defense lawyer Edward Ungvarsky, who told jurors that Hamilton lacked premeditation necessary to be convicted of capital murder.
Ungvarsky said the Hamiltons' marriage had long been troubled, and that a fight that day was precipitated by Ronald Hamilton's anger at his wife's plans to attend a Chippendales-style dance revue with her girlfriends. Ronald Hamilton struck his wife during the argument, and Crystal Hamilton called 911 for help. At that point, he knew that his military career, which depended on maintaining a security clearance, and his marriage could be over.
"He felt his world was crashing down around him," Ungvarsky said. "Passions erupted."
Ungvarsky said Hamilton fired indiscriminately at the officers as they tried to enter his home, but that he lacked any intention of killing them.
Jurors heard the 911 call Crystal Hamilton made, in which she said through sobs that her husband had slammed her onto the floor. That last thing heard before the call disconnected was her screaming "Stop!"
Jurors also heard a written statement from the Hamiltons' 13-year-old son, Tyriq, who was home at the time of the shootings. Both sides agreed to let him provide a written statement so he wouldn't have to testify in person.
The statement was read to jurors by Tyriq's maternal grandmother.
"I heard like three shots," Tyriq wrote in the statement. "Then my mom went silent."
Hamilton, dressed in his military dress uniform, did not speak during Tuesday's proceedings and often hung his head as his actions were described to the jury.
The trial is expected to last several weeks. Among those scheduled to testify are the two officers who survived the shootings, McKeown and Hempen.