Such was the case of the conclusion of this week’s Tamir Hamilton murder trial. Loyal Tribune readers know all about it, thanks to the hard work of our reporter Janine Kearney. For those who aren’t up to date, Hamilton was convicted of raping and murdering 16-year-old Holly Quick of Sparks back in 2006.
By no means was Quick’s death quick and painless. Her throat was slashed and she was stabbed repeatedly by Hamilton, a man who Quick’s family once called “friend” but on Friday called an “evil monster” after his sentencing. From the penal history of this man, that description is accurate: He has been convicted of stabbing two people during an attempted robbery and raping a college student.
The night the jury announced the guilty verdict, I was filling in as reporter at the courthouse. It was the first time I had seen Quick’s family in person. As I sat outside the courtroom I was able to match up some faces from the photographs we ran in the paper. One of the first faces I recognized was that of Patricia Doss, Quick’s mother. Again, for those of you who haven’t followed the blow-by-blow coverage in the Tribune, Doss was at home when her daughter was murdered and found her body the next morning.
No person should ever have to experience what this woman has gone through. We have all seen movies where someone finds the body of a spouse or child, but dramatic music, fancy editing and storytelling enables the viewers to move past that moment and get on with the “whodunnit.” For Doss, there is no jump cut or fade-to-scene to get her past finding her daughter’s bloodied and butchered corpse. I watched Doss as she sat in the courtroom, only 30 feet from the man who cut up her baby 19 months ago, violently shaking and crying.
It is for Doss and her suffering and the suffering of Quick’s family, not to mention the suffering of Quick herself, that I support the death penalty for Tamir Hamilton.
There has been a lot of controversy over the death penalty in recent years in light of scientific crime scene analysis and its reliability, or lack thereof depending which side you’re on. In the Hamilton case, DNA testing was used against the defendant with very definitive implications in the minds of jurors.
Certainly every defendant deserves the best evidence analysis when accused of any crime, particularly when death is on the line. And I understand that science has helped exonerate many prisoners who were wrongly convicted of crimes. But we have a system made up of many smart, well-intentioned people. It’s not perfect and, as long as the system involves humans, it never will be. All we can do is try the best we can with what we have and hope that our system of appeals and checks will root out the mistakes and flaws.
This case also had another controversial element: mental illness. Hamilton’s public defenders argued that his schizophrenia and drug use were to blame for the violent outburst that led to Quick’s death. On this issue, I am conflicted because it comes down to a battle of experts. In the courtroom, both sides can find experts who will testify — for a price — on their behalf. Certainly there are cases in which a person has a legitimate, provable mental disorder that leads them to actions beyond their control. It is a legitimate argument that those people should not be given the death penalty for a crime they commit under the influence of their illness. But, then, you might argue that keeping them in a padded room is no better than giving them a lethal injection.
In this case, it came down to the jury simply not believing that Hamilton’s mental problems were to blame for his actions. In that context, death is still on the table.
From this point, it comes down to the hearts and mind of the jurors. Once the facts are settled to the best of our abilities and a jury decides that the suspect was in full control of his actions, the question is simply this: What do we as a society do with this person? If we lock a criminal away forever, that person might find a hole in the system or a hole in the prison wall and rejoin society to once again pose a threat to you or me or someone we care about. By the same token, a new technology or piece of evidence might come to light that will show us that we were wrong about this person and we spend an eternity (and, after the lawsuit, probably a lot of taxpayer money) apologizing.
Or, we could whisk that person off to a little room, stick a needle in their arm and never worry about them again. This scenario is easier to stomach for a person who has committed multiple crimes, as is the case with Hamilton. I know that I will feel safer knowing there is one less person like him in the world.
I suppose this is all easy to say since it is not my friend, father or brother who is facing the death penalty, but I would like to think that if someone I knew turned out to be a cold-blooded murderer with no respect for human life that I would be happy to see that person gone.
Quick’s family said in a statement Friday that they hope Hamilton will repent for what he did and that one day he will be judged by a higher power. I’m not sure that I have any hopes for Hamilton, except that he might feel even a fraction of the pain he inflicted on young Holly. My hope for Quick’s mother is that she can regain some sense of normalcy in her life, but that’s probably wishful thinking. My hope for the rest of us is that we never run cross paths with a monster like Hamilton.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go sharpen my guillotine.
Nathan Orme is the editor of the Sparks Tribune. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.