Michael Hamilton -- Circumstantial Evidence Puts Him on Death Row

Michael Hamilton
Case Account Provided By The International Bannister Foundation (Head Office -- Scotland, UK)

Edited By Stormy Thoming-Gale

{Editor's Note: This case, like so many others, is complex. It involves the testimony of two people, Carolyn and Gilbert, who were admittedly involved in the crime. When reading the trial transcripts it is apparent that the testimony of these two is unreliable, their stories change often. Michael's story has been consistent from the day of the murder to now, 19 years later. The prosecution's theory rests entirely on the testimony of Carolyn and Gilbert with no supporting forensic evidence. I urge you to visit The International Bannister Foundation's web site for more information. The web site information will be given at the end of the article. --STG}

Introduction

The International Bannister Foundation is a membership organization. IBF is not political, color prejudiced, or a religious group. IBF is a pro-human rights action and support group. IBF comforts and supports inmates, inmate's families and inmates whose human rights have been violated.

Pamela and Tom Rodger, Co-founders of The International Bannister Foundation became involved in the case of Michael Hamilton. When reading the transcripts and other evidence, Pamela and Tom could find no direct conclusive evidence that could possibly convict Michael Hamilton beyond reasonable doubt.

For two years, Pamela and Tom have been researching and investigating Michael's case. They have been travelling back and forth from Scotland to California meeting with Michael at San Quentin and meeting with attorneys and others. Finally, after two years of facing many obstacles during their investigation, they firmly believe that Michael Hamilton is innocent of this crime. Here is the story of THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA VS. MICHAEL HAMILTON.

The Discovery

On November 2nd, 1981, at the junction near Terra Bella and Highway 65 in Tulare County, California, a gruesome discovery was made at around 10:30 p.m. A young woman was discovered murdered in a white GMC Pickup truck. The young woman, found by her husband, had been shot twice with a shotgun.

Michael was immediately detained and questioned for three days and then released because it is common for authorities to suspect the spouse in such murders. He was later rearrested on November 17th 1981, charged and convicted a year later for the murder of his wife Gwendolyn and their unborn son. He was given the death penalty. Michael's conviction was based primarily on circumstantial evidence and the uncorroborated testimony of two charged accomplices and others, who for one reason or another gave false testimony against Michael Hamilton.

He has been on death row nearly 19 years at San Quentin State Prison hoping earnestly for help in proving his innocence before the U.S. Government takes his life.

Michael's Story:

In August 1981, Michael and his wife Gwendolyn received a surprise visit from Michael's oldest sister Carolyn. With her were two of her coworkers of a private security patrol business, Gilbert Garay and Patty Ketchum. They had come to take them to the County Fair.

Michael and Gwen thought this uncharacteristic of Carolyn, but accepted the offer. The group had been at the fair for some time before Michael and Gwen discovered the true motive for this expense-paid trip. Carolyn Hamilton, Gilbert Garay and Patty Ketchum had come to ask Michael and Gwen to co-sign a twenty thousand dollar loan so they could finance the start of their own private security patrol business. Michael and Gwendolyn refused to co-sign such a loan because they no longer owned their home; they were leasing their current home and had no collateral.

Over the next two months Carolyn called Michael several times to attempt to get him involved in various illegal money making schemes to raise the money needed for the security patrol business. Then in October 1981, Carolyn again contacted Michael and asked if he could get a stolen car and two guns. When Michael asked why, Carolyn asked Michael if he thought it would be difficult to kill someone. When Michael asked who she wanted to kill, she said, "your wife!'

Michael told Carolyn, "don't even joke about such things," and Carolyn said she was kidding, that she and someone else (not named then) were going to rob a drug dealer they knew, who was expecting a shipment of drugs soon, and needed a stolen car and two guns for their safety in case there would be trouble.

Carolyn also asked if Michael wanted to make two thousand dollars, by being available after the robbery to take the stolen goods and "fence" them to contacts she assumed Michael still knew. While Michael had no intention of participating, he told Carolyn he would check around and see what he could find out.

In mid October 1981, while with his mistress, Brenda Burns, Michael had Brenda call Carolyn. He then took the phone and told Carolyn that he couldn't get either a car or guns. Carolyn insisted that Michael at least try to find some guns.

October 29, 1981, Carolyn called Michael and told him that the robbery would take place on Halloween night, and that he should tell Gwen that Carolyn had invited them up to Porterville to take the kids trick-or-treating. This would act as Michael's excuse to be in Porterville so he could get the stolen goods. Michael spoke to Gwen and told Carolyn that it was okay. Carolyn then reminded Michael that he needed to find her a gun.

On October 31, 1981, after work, Michael drove to Brenda Burn's home and was told by her sister Sharon and her boyfriend, Donald Van Eck, that Brenda would be home soon. Michael then drove to the nearby K-Mart store on Niles Avenue, and went in to check the prices of shotguns. He drove back to Brenda's house just as Brenda arrived. Michael explained that he needed to borrow some money from her so he could purchase a shotgun. Brenda said okay but she needed to cash her welfare check before they could go to K-Mart.

They stopped on the way to K-Mart at a Minute Mart to cash Brenda's check. Then they drove to the Niles Avenue K-Mart store where Michael sent Brenda in to buy the shotgun and a box of cartridges. Michael remained in the truck taking care of Brenda's baby. After nearly 45 minutes, Brenda Burns emerged from the store with a male employee, who, per store policy, carried the shotgun out to Michael's truck and handed it to Michael. Michael put the boxed gun behind the seat of the truck and left.

Once back at Brenda's house, Michael removed 4 shells from the box and asked Brenda to hold onto the rest of them until he returned. He then proceeded home, discarding the shotgun box along the way.

At home Michael took the shotgun and four shells from the truck and transferred them to the Hamiltons' station wagon, and the Hamiltons drove to Carolyn's in Porterville. Once at Carolyn's, Michael told Carolyn where the shotgun and shells were, but did not see who actually removed them from his car. There were many people at Carolyn's: Michael and Carolyn's mother, Jackie Piper, Jackie Piper's husband, Sam Piper, who lived with Carolyn along with Gilbert Garay and Carolyn's son, Marvin.

Carolyn, her son, and the Hamiltons got into the Hamilton station wagon and drove to where they planned to go trick-or-treating. Gilbert Garay drove his own truck and stopped to pick up Patty Ketchum and her children, and met up with the Hamiltons and they all started trick-or-treating.

After about 20 minutes, Gilbert Garay left. Carolyn told Michael that Gilbert was going to check on the home that was to be robbed, which Michael understood to be in that general area. Gilbert Garay returned about 45 minutes to an hour later, and told Carolyn and Michael that the robbery was a "no go" for that night. Within a half an hour of that news, the Hamiltons had dropped off Carolyn and her son and were on their way back home. Before leaving Carolyn's home, the Hamiltons had agreed to return to Porterville the next day for a barbecue, which was a guise to have Michael available if the robbery was to take place the next evening.

The next day, November 1, 1981, the Hamiltons returned to Porterville for the barbecue and on at least three occasions, Gilbert Garay left supposedly to check on whether or not the robbery would go forward. Sometime around 9 or 10 p.m., Michael said he had to get home and he and his family left. Somewhere around 11 or 12 p.m. Carolyn called the Hamiltons to see if they'd reached home safely. A gesture the Hamiltons thought uncharacteristic, as she had never done that before.

On November 2, 1981, as prearranged between Carolyn and Michael on the previous night, Carolyn called Gwen and said she had found Michael's wallet and ID card. She asked Gwen if she wanted her to mail it back or wait until Michael could come and pick it up. Gwen told her she would ask Michael to call Carolyn when he got home from work. Michael called and told Carolyn they would drive up to Porterville and pick it up. Michael and Gwen agreed to ask Gwen's sister, Carol Palmer, to watch their children while they drove to Porterville.

Carolyn made a big act of returning Michael's wallet to him, which he had given to her for the purpose. The Hamiltons made small talk and watched Monday night football on TV. The Hamiltons left shortly after arriving. Outside, away from the others, Michael told Carolyn not to call him until after the robbery was done because he could not keep coming back for no reason. Michael and Gwen then left for their home.

Just about a mile and half South of Highway 190 on state RT 65, Michael thought he felt a tire going down on his truck, so he pulled over and had Gwen inch the truck forward while he checked for leaks. Having found no leak they proceeded on their way home. About 5 or 6 miles further down the road Michael noticed a distinct pulling to the right, as though there was a low tire. Michael pulled to the side of the road about one quarter of a mile south of the Terra Bella Crossroads. When he went around to check the tire, he discovered it was low on air. Michael knew it was unlikely he could make it all the way home on the tire.

Rather than risk driving on the tire and causing any major damage to it, Michael suggested to Gwen that they hitchhike back to a pay phone some 4 to 5 miles back, and call Carolyn to come and help them. Gwen, being pregnant and tired, told Michael to go ahead and she would remain in the truck where it was warm. Michael left the parking lights on the truck so no cars would hit it, and he then walked back north on Highway 65 to where he knew a pay phone was located. Just past the Terra Bella Crossroads, a 1967 green mustang pulled over in response to Michael's hitchhiking and offered him a ride.

Michael explained to the driver what had happened and said he was going to the pay phone at the Teapot Dome Crossroads to call his sister for assistance. As they approached the Crossroads, Michael and the Mustang driver noticed a Highway Patrol Officer issuing a car ticket to a motorist on the southbound side of the Highway. The Mustang driver pulled over where Michael indicated to let him out. Michael then used the pay phone to call his sister's home. Michael's mother answered the phone, and after he explained the situation, Jackie Piper told Michael that Carolyn and Gilbert had left to go pick up Carolyn's boyfriend, Ron Stafford, from work, but that when she returned, she'd send Carolyn out to pick Michael up. Michael called back a few minutes later and advised his mother to have Carolyn bring a sweater for Gwendolyn and a Pepsi.

About 15-30 minutes later Sam and Jackie Piper arrived driving Carolyn's truck and said Carolyn still had not gone to pick up her boyfriend, so they came in her place. They then proceeded to where Michael left Gwendolyn and the truck. As the Pipers and Michael were approaching the truck, Michael noticed that the parking lights were no longer on. By the looks of it, Gwen had fallen asleep waiting for Michael to return.

As Michael crossed between the two pickups, he hit the hood of his truck attempting to wake Gwen up, but she did not stir. He then opened the driver-side door and immediately realized the truck was not running. He reached in to shake Gwen awake and when she did not respond he got half the way into the truck to see what the problem was. He saw the open wound on Gwen's neck and all the blood and became hysterical, yelling for his mother to come and help saying that Gwen was bleeding.

From that point, through the next few hours, Michael's memory of the events are not clear, but subsequent investigation reports and testimony indicate that Jackie Piper had to physically pull Michael from his truck, where he collapsed to the ground. Jackie Piper then determined that Gwen was indeed dead and appeared to have had her throat slashed. While Sam Piper attempted to stop traffic to get help, Jackie Piper got Michael over to the side of the road out of the way of traffic. Sam Piper got a trucker to stop, who then used his CB radio to call the Highway Patrol for assistance. It was not long before the Highway Patrol and Sheriff Officers were at the crime scene. Sometime during this period, a police officer and Michael's mother assisted him into the backseat of a police car.

Sometime later, Jackie Piper had police call Carolyn to come out and comfort Michael. Carolyn and her boyfriend, Ron Stafford, arrived. Shortly after that, police searched Michael and seized the knife he wore in a sheath on his belt, placed him back into the police car and drove him to the Porterville sub-station of the Sheriff's Office for questioning.

Sam and Jackie Piper, Carolyn Hamilton and Ron Stafford were also taken to the sub-station and separated for questioning. Michael didn't see his family for three days after that. As he was repeatedly questioned for several hours, fingerprinted and subjected to chemical testing for blood residue to help eliminate him as a suspect. Later, some of those tests were determined to be for gunshot residue as well. Michael was also asked if he'd submit to a polygraph test, to help eliminate him as a suspect and was transported to the Tulare County Jail in the early morning hours of November 3, 1981. There, Michael was placed into a holding cell in the jail until the test could be set up. A couple of hours passed. Completely exhausted and having not eaten or slept in over 24 hours, he was escorted by detectives up to the offices of the Sheriff's Department.

Once up there, Detective Diaz directed Michael to sit at a desk while they waited for Detective Lovelady, who was going to administer the polygraph test. Ironically, upon this desk where the detective seated Michael, was a Sheriff's Department News Release, which in part read that Gwen Hamilton had been killed by two shotgun blasts, one to her neck and the other to her side ribcage. Michael was seen reading the news release by Detective Diaz, who then removed it.

Michael attempted to question detective Diaz to determine why Michael had been led to believe his wife had had her throat cut, when the news release said she had been shot, but the detective said they'd talk after the test. Michael objected to being submitted to the test having just learned how his wife was really killed. He raised these concerns again to Detective Lovelady, but was told to just answer honestly and it wouldn't matter. Michael also raised the issue of how lack of sleep and food would effect the test, and was told it would not. At the end of the test, Detectives Diaz, Salazar and Lt. Byrd questioned Michael further, stating he failed the polygraph on the questions of knowing Gwen had been shot and with what type of weapon. Michael again raised the matter of seeing the news release just prior to taking the test, but the Detectives continued to accuse Michael of the murder and wanted to know where the gun was.

Michael had, since first questioned, told Detectives what had happened the night of November 2nd 1981, leaving out all aspects of his real reason for going to Porterville. At that time, Michael had no reason to suspect one had to do with the other, and saw no reason to make matters appear worse than they already were. Michael was later returned to the Tulare County Jail and booked pending the investigation of the murder.

On Michael's fourth day of being in custody, the District Attorney determined there was insufficient evidence to charge Michael and ordered his release. When Michael was released he was not given back any of his clothing, wallet, ID card, car or house keys. All the property on his person at the time of his arrest was seized as evidence, when by law it should have been returned upon his release. His truck had also been seized.

As Michael had no means of transportation, Detectives Salazar and Diaz said they would drive Michael anywhere he wanted to go. Michael chose his sister Carolyn's home as the closest. On the trip to his sister's home the Detectives continued to badger and accuse Michael of the murder and having knowledge about it or both. When Michael refused to speak, Detective Jay Salazar shoved the photographs taken earlier of his wife and unborn son on the autopsy table directly into Michael's face.

Once at Carolyn's house, the Detectives waited for Michael to change out of the jail clothes so they could be returned. Instead of leaving when the clothes were returned, they took each person in the house outside for further interviewing. After the Detectives left, each person there told how the Detectives had threatened them in an attempt to get information about Michael. Shortly after the Detectives left, they returned and told Jackie Piper they had a warrant for her arrest, along with her youngest daughter Vickie, for passing bad checks. The Detectives agreed not to take Mrs. Piper into custody provided she come in the next day to clear up the matter. Mrs. Piper explained that the Detectives told her that her assistance in the Michael Hamilton matter could go towards helping keep her out of jail on the check charges.

A week after Michael's release, Carolyn called. Carolyn told Michael that she had just learned the owner's manual for the shotgun had been discovered in a second search of Michael's truck. Michael told Carolyn that he wanted the shotgun back to turn it in to prove it was not the one that was used to commit the murder. Carolyn said that Gilbert Garay had taken it. She said she would call Gilbert and get back to Michael. Michael called Brenda to tell her she would soon be questioned about purchasing the gun. At their meeting Brenda told Michael she had already been contacted.

Two days later Michael called Carolyn about the shotgun. Carolyn explained that Gilbert had cut up and gotten rid of the shotgun. Carolyn was evasive as to why Gilbert had done that. Michael was suspicious.

On November 16th 1981, Michael received a call from Carolyn. Carolyn said the pieces could not be recovered. Michael threatened to tell the police that the reason he had the shotgun because Carolyn and Gilbert were planning a robbery. It was after this threat that Carolyn fully confessed to Michael that she and Gilbert were involved in Gwen's murder. Carolyn said that Gilbert had killed Gwen and she had been driving.

Carolyn told Michael that she and Gilbert thought that after Michael got paid from the insurance he would give them the money they needed. Carolyn begged Michael not to turn her in. After a few minutes of thought, Michael told Carolyn he would not turn her in and would come to see her the next day.

Michael never made it back to Porterville, in the early hours the house was surrounded by Police. Michael was taken into custody, arrested and charged with murder, based on the evidence surrounding the purchase of the shotgun. Once arrested this second time, Michael refused to speak to detectives without a lawyer.

Michael's youngest sister, Vickie Hamilton, had contacted authorities and in exchange for having all non-related charges dropped against her and her boyfriend, Steven Fitzherbert, and having no charges brought against her for conspiracy in Gwen's murder, she would help the authorities gain the evidence needed to arrest Carolyn Hamilton and Gilbert Garay.

The Prosecution's Theory

The Prosecution contends that Michael asked Carolyn and Gilbert Garay to murder his wife for $20,000.00. The prosecution presented no forensic evidence to support its theory, using only the testimony of Carolyn and Gilbert Garay and the purchase of the shotgun as its only evidence.

The prosecution contends that Michael contacted Carolyn about his intention to kill his wife. Carolyn then contacted Vicki, the youngest sister, and asked her to be the triggerman. Vicki originally agreed but moved to Texas before the murder occurred. Carolyn and Gilbert then testified that Michael intentionally got a flat tire on the station wagon on October 31st, that Gilbert had the gun and couldn't bring himself to shoot Gwen so Michael decided to let Gilbert try again on the night of November 1st.

The next night Gilbert failed yet again and Michael took it upon himself to kill Gwen on the third night, November 2nd. They testified that Michael told Carolyn and Gilbert to follow him, Michael poked a hole in the tire of his truck and shot Gwen. Carolyn and Gilbert picked him up afterwards and drove Michael to the phone booth and they brought Michael back to the scene of the crime. Then Michael walked back to the phone booth and called Jackie Piper who picked him up and brought him back to "discover" the murder.

The Investigation

Tulare County Homicide Detectives, Jay Salazar and Ralph Diaz were assigned to the case. After several hours investigating the crime scene they questioned Michael, who, they had already determined, was their prime suspect. After going over Michael's statement regarding the events of the evening of the murder, they took all Michael's clothing, shoes and knife to be tested for presence of blood and gunpowder residue. They also did chemical testing and fingernail scrapings on Michael's hands for the same purpose.

Later, as a direct result of the illegal search and seizure of Michael's wallet, a slip of paper with Brenda Burns' telephone number led investigators not only to question Brenda Burns, but all others whose names or telephone numbers had been found in Michael's wallet.

Statements from Brenda Burns along with the shotgun owner's manual found in Michael's truck, ultimately resulted in Michael's re-arrest. That arrest, however, did not occur until after Vickie Hamilton's initial contact with the authorities to reveal her part in the murder plan and her agreement to tie Carolyn Hamilton and Gilbert Garay in as the actual murderers. The investigation, from that point on, went down a whole new path, attempting to maintain Michael's involvement rather than shifting their focus to Carolyn Hamilton and Gilbert Garay.

Lead Detective Jay Salazar was a long time personal friend of the Garay family, and Gilbert Garay had two brothers who were law enforcement officers. One was a Porterville police officer, and the other a Tulare County Deputy Sheriff working the Porterville area. Both these officers were permitted to speak with Gilbert Garay during his initial arrest and questioning. Not all the interviews with Gilbert Garay or Carolyn Hamilton were recorded, and those that were had many interruptions due to the recording having been stopped and restarted.

Gilbert Garay told investigators the general areas where he had disposed of the shotgun parts and search and rescue teams were brought in that did find all the major components of the shotgun. However, if any tests were conducted on these components, they were never divulged to the defense or presented in court. Investigators relied totally on the statements of Gilbert Garay and Carolyn Hamilton, that this was in fact the murder weapon and presented as such to the jury.

Michael had no idea that the tires on both his station wagon and truck had been deliberately punctured, yet statements from both Carolyn Hamilton and Gilbert Garay stated that the tires had been punctured with an ice pick from Carolyn's home, and they said that Michael had done it. An ice pick was introduced as evidence into court but no rubber residue was ever found on it, and investigators did not attempt to make any comparisons on whether the punctures were similar in any form, nor did they even examine the tires on the Hamiltons' station wagon.

Both Carolyn Hamilton and Gilbert Garay testified that the Hamiltons had stopped their station wagon on the side of the road on both days of October 31st and November 1st at the designated murder spot.

They claimed that Michael did change the tire on the night of November 1st while Carolyn Hamilton and Gilbert Garay drove by several times looking for an opportunity to do the shooting. Had investigators bothered to check the tires on the Hamiltons' station wagon, they would have discovered that the tires had never been changed and that the spare tire had never been used. The defense lawyer had also been aware of this information but did not obtain the station wagon or the tires as evidence before the car was repossessed and resold.

Had the defense lawyer obtained the Hamiltons' station wagon and presented the tire as evidence, he and the state prosecutor would have discovered that:

The spare tire was brand new, and had never been used -- showing no tire had ever been changed on the car and that the other tires had stop leaks in them, making it easy to find any punctures. That fact nullifies Carolyn Hamilton and Gilbert Garay's claim that Michael was changing the car tire that night.

Brenda Burns said that she and Michael went into K-Mart and Michael said he wanted to buy a shotgun that was on sale, but because he forgot his I.D., he asked Brenda to purchase the shotgun in her name, along with a box of cartridges. Then Michael drove her home. Burns then claimed that Michael returned to her home on November 1st carrying a paper bag and remembers that Michael left a few minutes later without the paper bag. Brenda claimed she later found the paper bag in a closet a few days later containing a box of shotgun cartridges. After learning of Gwen's death, Brenda contacted her father about the cartridges and they contacted authorities. This does not match up with investigator's reports about how they first contacted Brenda. Authorities contacted Brenda after finding her name, address and telephone number in Michael's wallet.

Investigators contacted Michael's friends, neighbors and coworkers, but they turned up no evidence to indicate Michael would harm his wife. Hamilton's insurance agent was contacted and verified there was a one hundred thousand- dollar life insurance policy on his wife. The insurance agent said the Hamiltons had been late in making their payments on occasion, but that the policies were up to date. He also said it seemed it was Gwen, more than Michael, who wanted to keep the policies up to date.

The Hamiltons' landlord, who expected them to purchase the home, told investigators that although they had been a little late on the rent payments a few times, it had always been paid and he had never known the Hamiltons to have any disagreements.

Detectives learned that Michael Hamilton was eight months behind in the payments on his truck at the time of the murder, and used this, along with the Hamiltons' life insurance policies as a basis to claim that Michael was desperate for money and killed his wife Gwen for capital gain.

Had investigators bothered to present all the Hamiltons' financial records, they would have discovered a much different story. While the Hamiltons had struggled a bit, it was not a situation they had not been in and managed to get off before. In fact, the company that leased the truck to the Hamiltons knew of their credit history and agreed to work with Michael rather than repossess the truck, and this is why Michael still had the truck despite being eight months in arrears with the payments. In addition, it was Carolyn's statements that Michael would pay her twenty thousand dollars for killing his wife that detectives used as a basis to make the financial gain special circumstances claim.

The Hamilton case dominated the Tulare County Newspapers from the onset, and with 1982 being an election year, several candidates, including the Sheriff and District Attorney used his case for publicity and re-election gain. Michael was appointed a public defender who had never tried a capital case before.

Vicki Hamilton's Involvement

Vicki Hamilton, Michael's youngest sister, disclosed information two weeks after Michael was released (due to lack of evidence). Vicki said she knew of the murder plan and was supposed to take part in it, but that at the time of the crime, she was in Texas with her boyfriend, Steven Fitzherbert, now Vicki's husband.

In a taped interview with police, Vicki Hamilton stated that Carolyn Hamilton had told her "Michael and Gwen are to be killed."

Vicki also said that during a telephone conversation between Carolyn in California and Vicki in Dallas, Carolyn said a pump shotgun was used and Gilbert pulled the trigger. Carolyn denies saying this, but Vicki stands by her statement. This statement brings a second murder weapon into allegation, not a breach action shotgun as the alleged, but a pump action shotgun.

Vicki made clear the motive behind Gwen's murder: Personal Vendetta. Michael and Gwen had refused to enter into a debt agreement for a loan of $20,000.00 Carolyn was angry. Carolyn believed she would eventually get some of that insurance money for herself and Gilbert and she told Gilbert that. Michael and Gwen also threw Vicki and Steven Fitzherbert out of their home for constantly drinking alcohol and taking illicit drugs because Michael and Gwen did not want to subject their children to that. Steven Fitzherbert disputes this, saying he left because he couldn't stand Michael's moaning at him any longer.

The Evidence Pointing to Michael's Innocence

The prosecution put forth a .12-gauge, single barrel, breach shotgun as the murder weapon. The shotgun was never scientifically tested to see if it was the actual murder weapon or if Michael ever actually shot this firearm. The shotgun has not been tested to find out if any of Gwen's blood could be on the single barrel shotgun.

Michael's hands were tested twice, once before and once after washing his hands. They also tested fingernail scrapings to see if any gunpowder residue could be found. The first test of Michael's hands were conveniently lost, allowing the prosecution to enter an Inconclusive Test into testimony. The police denied the first testing before Michael washed his hands, and made an excuse that an error occurred because they had allowed Michael to wash his hands before any tests were accomplished. The second test came back clean. One can presume that Michael's first test came back clean as well because if it hadn't the prosecution wouldn't have lost it.

The test that was conducted on Michael's clothing for blood splatter and gunpowder came back completely clean. There was no residue of blood splatter or evidence of firing of a firearm of any kind. The first shot was through the left side of Gwen's neck at a distance of 6 inches from the gun barrel, this was enough to kill her outright. The second shot was under her left armpit, the gun barrel was right up against her chest cavity. It's impossible to imagine someone committing the murder and walking away without any blood splattered on them.

Steven O'Clair, a lab scientist, testified that the shot size found in Gwendolyn Hamilton's body was a size 8 shot and the shot size that the prosecution offered as a test were also of size 8 shot. However, Lillian Whisenant, a clerk at K-Mart, stated that the shot size allegedly sold to Michael was Federal size 7.5. Steven O'Clair was asked on the witness stand if there is a significant difference in the size of shot. The answer was, yes, there was a difference of weight.

Witness Tampering

Detective Salazar and the county taxpayers paid for Vicki Hamilton and Steven Fitzherbert to fly from Texas to California, put them up in a motel for seven months, and paid for their food. Detective Salazar lent them his car, which Vicki crashed. Detective Salazar fixed it, and gave it back to Vicki at no cost. In addition to all this, certain Californian Federal charges were dropped against Vicki, as was the deportation of Steven Fitzherbert to Canada, who was wanted by the police on other charges. All this so Vicki Hamilton and Steven Fitzherbert would testify against Michael Hamilton to put him on death row, and they did.

Coerced Witness

Brenda Burns was an important witness in this case. Her testimony was crucial to put the shotgun in Michael's hands. Michael maintains that Brenda cashed her welfare check and bought the gun with her own money. Brenda claims Michael gave her the cash. If Brenda had used her own money to buy the shotgun and cartridges, she could be prosecuted as an accomplice. The prosecution used the possible accomplice charge to obtain coerced testimony.

The 1994 Declaration of Brenda Burns, now Brenda Meyers, states in part: "Detective Salazar and another officer they began to threaten me. They said if I did not cooperate with them they would charge me with murder, and I could get the death penalty. They said they would make me lose my kids."

Brenda was reduced to tears. In the same declaration: "someone came to Bakersfield with a copy of my statement typed up and said they wanted me to memorize it word for word. The District Attorney's office had someone practice my testimony with me for several hours a day, two or three days a week for two weeks before I testified." Brenda Burns was a coerced witness with a scripted testimony.

This article only scratches the surface of this complex case. There is much more involved in Michael's case. IBF investigations are still ongoing. For further information, contact:

Tom & Pamela Rodger (Co-founders)
The International Bannister Foundation
P.O. Box: 26170
Dunfermline
Fife
KY11 4WR
Scotland
United Kingdom

Web: International Bannister Foundation
Web: http://www.tibf.co.uk/mh/michaelhamilton.htm
E-mail: ibf2001@aol.com
E-mail: tibf2000@yahoo.com
Yahoo IM ID: tibf2000

Justice Denied