Staff sergeant accused of killing wife and Virginia police officer is held without bond

Suspect Ronald Hamilton.


By JUSTIN JOUVENAL AND DANA HEDGPETH | The Washington Post | Published: February 29, 2016

The Army staff sergeant accused of killing his wife and a Prince William County, Virginia, police officer was held without bond Monday after being arraigned.

Ronald Williams Hamilton, 32, who is also accused of wounding two other officers, appeared at two brief arraignment hearings in Prince William County via a video feed from the local jail. One was for his wife's death, the other for the attack on the officers.

Hamilton only spoke to answer the judges' questions. He was flanked by sheriff's deputies during both hearings.

During the second hearing, Prince William County prosecutor Paul Ebert said Hamilton had a previous conviction for assault in either South Carolina or Tennessee in 2007. Ebert declined to discuss the nature of the conviction. Ebert said after the hearing Hamilton was placed in a diversion program for 11 months following the assault conviction.

Judges set hearings on the charges for April 18 and 19.

According to charging documents, three Prince William County police officers who were responding on Saturday to a call for a domestic dispute went to Hamilton's front door, where they were met by him.

Hamilton then opened fire from "the area of the front door" striking all three officers, the documents say.

Officer Ashley Guindon died a short time later from her wounds. Two other officers remain hospitalized, but are expected to recover.

Charging documents also said Hamilton admitted to police after he was taken into custody that he shot the officers and his wife. Hamilton's wife — Crystal Hamilton — was found dead in a bedroom in their house, according to charging documents.

During the arraignments, judges appointed Capital Defender Edward J. Ungvarsky to represent Hamilton on all the charges he is facing.

Ungvarsky told the judge Hamilton was rescinding the permission he gave to authorities to review his medical and military records. Ungvarsky also requested a gag order in the case, but the judge told him he would have to file a motion.

After the hearing, Ebert said it had been a difficult couple days for the Prince William County police department.

"It's an officer's worst nightmare to go on a routine call and end up dead," Ebert said. "It's taken a toll on everyone. There are very few dry eyes in that department."

Guindon had been sworn in as an officer the day before, and Saturday was her first day on the street. Her slaying was only the second malicious killing of an officer in the history of the Prince William County police department.

Police said Hamilton, who was stationed at the Pentagon, fatally shot his wife before officers arrived on the scene.

Ebert, the prosecutor, had said he will likely pursue the death penalty against Hamilton, who is facing a total of six charges, including capital murder of a police officer, first-degree murder and two counts of malicious wounding of a police officer.

The incident began around 5:40 p.m. Saturday when the officers responded to a house in the 13000 block of Lashmere Court in Woodbridge. Prince William Police Chief Stephan M. Hudson said Ronald and Crystal Hamilton had been involved in a day-long verbal altercation that escalated physically.

Police said Crystal Hamilton called 911, but her husband shot her to death before officers arrived. The couple's 11-year-old son was home during the altercation and fled at some point, police said. He was not injured.

Guindon's death drew an outpouring of sympathy from law enforcement professionals across the nation. The county police department had just sworn her in Friday and tweeted a photo of Guindon and another new recruit with a message: "Be safe!"

Twenty-four hours later, on her first day on the street, she was one of the three officers responding to the incident with Hamilton.

Guindon was remembered as someone who put "service above self," as her former professor Chris Bonner put it. She was described as passionate about police work, determined to succeed and intelligent. She was a Marine Corps Reserve veteran and a graduate of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Fla.

"It's the worst nightmare that could happen to any police officer and her family," said Bonner.

It also was not the first tragedy Guindon's family had suffered while in uniform. Guindon's father, an Air National Guardsman, committed suicide in 2004, one day after returning from a tour in Iraq.

The wounded officers — Jesse Hempen, 31, and David McKeown, 33, are eight- and 10-year veterans of the force, respectively. The nature of their injuries has not been disclosed.

Police said they were still investigating whether Hamilton shot from inside or outside the home and the position of the officers when they were struck by bullets. It's also unclear how many shots were fired or whether officers fired.

Officials said additional officers arrived on the scene and surrounded the house. Hamilton surrendered without further incident, and Hudson said they found Crystal Hamilton's body inside. The wounded officers were flown to Fairfax Inova Hospital, where Hudson said Guindon died.

At some point during the incident, Zacarius Harris, 18, a neighbor, said he saw the Hamiltons' son running away from the house, wearing a T-shirt and basketball shorts. He was looking back at the house as he ran down the street. The boy ended up at a neighbor's house and is now in the care of family.

"He ran so fast I can't even imagine how scared he must have been," Harris said. "It broke my heart."

The alleged gunman's father, Ronald Whaley Hamilton, a retired major with the Charleston Police Department in South Carolina, said over the weekend that his son had a "very good upbringing." The elder Hamilton said his son joined the Army at age 18 and worked in information technology.

"We are grieving the same as all the people in Prince William County, as well as the law enforcement community across the United States," Hamilton said. "Ronald has always been a calm person and a very friendly person. He had a bright future with the Army and military. We express our thoughts and condolences to everyone who is affected."

Hamilton described his daughter-in-law Crystal Hamilton, 29, as a "kind, humble, energetic and wonderful person" who worked with wounded soldiers returning from Afghanistan and Iraq. He said that she and his son met after high school in South Carolina.

Ebert said officers recovered two guns from the scene, a high-powered rifle and a .45-caliber handgun. Ebert did not know if one or both were used in the shooting, but he said they were not U.S. military weapons.

Ebert and police said they could not comment on whether there had been previous calls to the Hamilton home. Officer Jonathan Perok, a Prince William police spokesman, said the initial 911 call came in as a domestic dispute. There were no reports of shots fired.

Guindon, 28, entered the academy for Prince William police in January 2015 and graduated in June. She left the academy before coming back this year.

"She couldn't get it out of her blood," Hudson said. "She clearly had a passion to serve others."

During a vigil Sunday night, more than 500 people packed the Sean Connaughton Plaza for the ceremony honoring Guindon. A giant American flag hung over the plaza, draped from two fire department ladders. And Guindon's police cruiser was draped in black bunting at the county's police headquarters.

Outside Crystal Hamilton's home, friends erected a memorial over the weekend. Flowers, candles and a teddy bear framed a posterboard of photos.

One of Crystal Hamilton's best friends, Shayna Colunga, said Hamilton shared a special bond with her son. They'd planned to go to Red Lobster to celebrate his birthday, but their plans were interrupted by Wednesday's severe weather.

"That was her munchkin. She called him her munchkin, her best friend," Colunga said.

Hawla Donley, another friend, said Crystal Hamilton had been getting over a cold, so Donley checked in with her Saturday morning. Donley wanted to make sure her friend was still up for a girls' night out, planned for the evening.

Hamilton's text back read:

"I'm not 100% but I'm alive and will make it," followed by a smile emoji.

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