WASHINGTON - A capital murder trial underway in Prince William County may present some difficulties for prosecutors.
Former Army Staff Sgt. Ronald Hamilton, 34, is accused of killing his wife and a responding Prince William County officer more than two years ago after a domestic dispute.
Now, a judge has ruled some expert testimony in the case inadmissible.
Hamilton is charged with capital murder, which could bring the death penalty.
On Feb. 27, 2016, Prince William County police responded to a 911 call from Crystal Hamilton about her husband being violent. One of those responding officers was 28-year-old Ashley Guindon. It was just her first day on the job. Along with Crystal, Guindon was shot and killed. Two other officers were wounded and badly hurt, but survived.
Hamilton’s trial began Sept. 12. But in a pre-trial hearing, Judge Steven S. Smith ruled the jury cannot hear expert opinion on the victim’s cause of death. The ruling came after the prosecution – the Prince William County Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office – missed a 60-day deadline to provide witness information to the defense.
Smith’s ruling means a medical examiner cannot give the jury cause of death, and DNA evidence (which relies on interpretation by forensic scientists) is also inadmissible.
A. Scott Bolden, a former New York prosecutor and current managing partner at Reed Smith LLP in Washington D.C., told FOX 5 that Smith’s ruling could be a major hurdle for a capital murder conviction.
“If the standard is reasonable doubt, if you don’t have anyone that can testify to the cause of death, inherent in that lack of testimony is, ‘Well, how did he die?’” explained Bolden.
“Without the expert testimony determining the cause of death, how do you prove a murder case? You’re left with an assault case, not a murder case. Because for murder, you have to have motive; you have to have intentionality to kill. Right? But there’s not going to be any testimony that he killed them. The surgeon can’t [testify] and the medical examiner can’t [testify].”
Bolden said, though, not all is lost on the part of the prosecution.
“Right now, the prosecutor is trying to figure out how they can get in factual testimony as to the cause of death,” Bolden added. “Maybe one of the officers says, ‘I checked the pulse, and there was no pulse.’ Maybe they get it in that way.”
Prior to the start of the trial, Hamilton’s lawyers said their client was willing to plead guilty to the killings if capital murder was taken off the table. The Prince William County Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office decided to move forward with three capital murder charges and 14 other counts related to the incident.
This is just the latest shakeup in this trial caused by missed deadlines. The trial had already been delayed twice. Once after prosecutors notified the court of their intention to introduce evidence relating to Hamilton’s prior record of violence. But defense lawyers argued the deadline for that already passed and they didn’t have time to review the information prior to trial.
The commonwealth’s attorney’s office rebutted that Hamilton’s lawyers already had that information well before their motion. The judge ultimately allowed the evidence, pushing the trial date back nearly six months.
This time around though, Smith said he must grant the defense their motion to bar the late information.
FOX 5 reached out to the Prince William County Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office and have not yet heard back.