Column: Will justice for Demitri Hampton ever be served?

09/23/2017 6:00 AM |

The grieving stage has passed. Now, Juanita Trent has entered the “angry stage.”

Four years have passed since her son Demitri Hampton was killed during a botched home invasion in Flanders; four months have passed since Messiah Booker — one of the defendants charged with the murder — accepted a plea deal on a lesser charge following the prosecution’s mishandling of the case; and three months have passed since Mr. Booker was sentenced to five years in prison in what Judge John Collins called a “travesty of justice.”

While Mr. Booker was accused of firing the bullet that killed Mr. Hampton, 21, the cases against three other defendants who allegedly assisted in the home invasion remain active.

And as more time passes, Ms. Trent can’t help but wonder if she’ll ever see the justice her son deserves.

“I’m really mad now,” Ms. Trent said in a recent interview. “We don’t want this to be just another case that goes sour.”

People will often come up to Ms. Trent, she said, and apologize about the outcome of the case.

“They think because that one person got away that all of them got away,” she said.

Corry Wallace — who testified against Mr. Booker, pointing the finger at him as the shooter — pleaded guilty to a manslaughter charge in a deal that reduced his second-degree murder charge. But that was before the prosecution botched the case against Mr. Booker. Sentencing for Mr. Wallace has been adjourned eight times since he pleaded guilty in March. Will he ultimately serve more time than the man who pulled the trigger?

Michael Parrish and Danielle Hall both still face a top charge of second-degree murder.

Ms. Trent said she had been told by prosecutors that September would have been the month when the cases on the other defendants progressed. Now that doesn’t seem to be the case, she said. Their earlier court appearances this month were all adjourned.

“They want to plead these people out,” Ms. Trent said. “They want this to go away.”

Mr. Hampton would have been 26 on Wednesday. His mother isn’t ready to give up the fight to honor her son.

She said she contacted a lawyer recently to see what rights she may have. The results, while not a shock, were disappointing, she said. One attorney told her to take the private apology she received from the district attorney’s office and be content with that. She’s still pursuing more options.

Suffolk County assistant district attorney Glenn Kurtzrock was forced to resign because of the mishandling of the case, which involved failing to turn over more than 100 pages of notes related to the investigation. Ms. Trent said she has never been given clarity as to what those 100-plus pages contained.

“I never got a public apology,” she said. “I have letters written from that courthouse pretty much stating that it was their fault, but nobody will call me back in a timely fashion.”

In the immediate aftermath of Mr. Booker’s plea agreement, Ms. Trent described it as like having another funeral. Her family was mourning all over again. Mr. Hampton’s sister, Jennifer Davis, reflected that her 5-year-old son never got the chance to know Demitri. And her son will be just 10 years old when the man believed to be responsible for his uncle’s death is released from prison. As the family sat together that day reflecting, it wasn’t about anger, but more astonishment at how things could go so wrong.

Now, as more time passes and the remaining cases float in limbo, the anger has boiled over.

It’s not about money, Ms. Trent said. It never has been. It’s a cloud of rain hanging over her family that never goes away, she said. Her heart goes out to every family she hears about where a young person dies. She can only hope their wound doesn’t rip open a second time.

“I’m going to make my family whole if I die trying,” she said.

The author is the editor of the Riverhead News-Review and The Suffolk Times. He can be reached at 631-354-8049 or [email protected].

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