Emotional testimony precedes 25-year sentence for Smyrna man

Cortez A. Hamilton

DOVER — A murder victim’s mother collapsed from her seat onto the courtroom floor sobbing and gasping loudly Wednesday morning, delaying an eventual 25-year prison sentence for her daughter’s killer.

The emotional meltdown underscored the anguish of loss expressed by the family of the late Keisha S. Hamilton during victim impact statements in Kent County Superior Court where her husband, Cortez A. Hamilton Sr., was sentenced.

He was convicted of second-degree murder in his wife’s death during a domestic incident in Smyrna in January 2015.

Approximately 20 of Mrs. Hamilton’s family and friends attended the session lasting just less than an hour, including a 15-minute recess to coax the victim’s mother onto her feet through consoling prayer and out of the courtroom before statements resumed and sentencing was pronounced.

“What you saw (the emotional torment) is what we will experience for the rest of our lives,” the victim’s aunt Wanda Barbour conveyed to Resident Judge William L. Witham Jr. during the last of the family statements.

Hamilton opted not to address the court before sentencing.

With the option of a 15-year to life sentence available for what’s regarded legally as a reckless killing, Judge Witham opted for 35 years of prison, suspended after a quarter century and followed by a year of Level IV work release and two years of Level III probation, among other stipulations.

Just prior to that, Deputy Attorney General Stephen R. Welch Jr. acknowledged sentencing guidelines and asked the Court for “a lengthy sentence, if not life, then close to life.”

Noting what he believed to be the “excessive cruelty” of the murder — Hamilton was accused of striking his wife on the side of the head with a hammer several times before she died — and a perceived lack of remorse and acceptance of guilt from the defendant, among other factors, Judge Witham issued the sentence. Hopefully, some sense of closure could result, he said, though the family professed earlier that their pain would never end.

Defense attorney John R. Garey emphasized belief that the violent incident was not pre-planned or intentional and was part of an ongoing “toxic, unhealthy” relationship between the couple that involved supposed mutual issues of abuse violations, divorce proceedings started and stopped, and custody matters debated in Family Court.

Mr. Welch, who teamed with Deputy Attorney General Lindsay Taylor in prosecuting the case, scoffed at the notion that Hamilton was initially attacked by his allegedly knife-wielding wife during an argument at home, pointing to evidence to the contrary.

Mr. Garey said earlier discussions with the prosecution indicated that 30 years of prison time would be considered just, though no formal agreement was reached and sentencing was ultimately left open to the court.

He mentioned an early release decision where a convicted second-degree murder inmate was freed after just less than 20 years imprisonment.

The attorney said he believed Hamilton “is still a young man and has things he can still contribute to society.” The defendant worked at a distribution center when arrested and was a military veteran .

Mrs. Hamilton was 35 years old when she died, and Mr. Hamilton was 32 when arrested in Indiana with his two children shortly after the incident, according to police at the time.

Mrs. Hamilton’s family said it was resigned to trying to raise her children as she would have, including handling milestone events that she would have planned.

Her cousin Calina Gordon rued the day she would have to “end the smile” and tell her young son “what really happened.”

For over three years, Mrs. Hamilton was officially considered missing as no body was found. Just prior to a plea agreement in January, officials said, Hamilton took police and attorneys to human skeletal remains at Mount Friendship Road north of Brenford Road near Smyrna.

Ms. Gordon said the family had no peace during the stretch where her cousin was unaccounted for and have been given a “death sentence” and had “taken their soul” since they will never see Keisha again.

According to the court, the couple met online and were married in Las Vegas in 2010, and had two children together.

They lived in the Twin Willows neighborhood at the time of the incident.

Reach staff writer Craig Anderson at canderson@newszap.com

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