Hamad trial caps a violent saga

WARREN — At the beginning of 2017, Nasser Hamad was a Howland businessman who one associate said “can dig the best trench around.”

As the year came to a close, Hamad is sitting in a prison cell after narrowly avoiding a trip to death row.

On Nov. 9, 2017, Hamad was sentenced to 30-years-to-life in prison on two counts of murder for killing two people and wounding three others during a Feb. 25 shooting outside his home and business on state Route 46.

Trumbull County Common Pleas Judge Ronald Rice, who presided over the much publicized trial, followed the jury’s recommendation.

Earlier that week following the mitigation phase of the trial, the jury had to be sequestered overnight at the Best Western hotel on the east end of Courthouse Square before rendering its decision. At one point, court officials said the jury had split 9-3 against the death penalty, but the three people who favored a death recommendation spent most of the deliberation trying to convince the other nine to see it their way.

The mitigation deliberation by the six women and six men was in sharp contrast to the relatively quick verdict delivered after the trial testimony. The jury was out for about an hour on Oct. 30 before rendering guilty verdicts against Hamad.

Hamad had been incarcerated since the Feb. 25 shooting, which was precipitated by a series of taunts and threats made over social media. Hamad’s girlfriend, Tracy Hendrickson, had recently left her husband Brian, who, along with some family members, blamed Hamad for that decision, according to court testimony.

During the trial, the state’s testimony painted a picture of the bloody Saturday in February on a commercial stretch of Howland’s high-traveled roadway. A police affidavit also told of Hamad engaging in a physical confrontation with five people in a minivan that drove up to his home.

During sentencing, Rice said Hamad and those who went to his home to beat him had participated in “relentless blather that would be too much for even the Jerry Springer show.”

After the confrontation ended, the state’s testimony showed a beaten Hamad returning to his home to retrieve a firearm. He came out and started shooting at the people in the van. When the magazine emptied, Hamad went back in the home and reloaded. As he made his way out of the home a second time, the affidavit stated he encountered an off-duty EMT who had come upon the scene and thought the inhabitants of the minivan were involved in some sort of accident.

According to the affidavit, Hamad told the EMT he was going to show him what was going on and again started to fire in the van. When two of the people began fleeing along a busy state Route 46, Hamad continued firing.

The five people in the van were shot a total of 15 times. Dead were Joshua Haber, 19, and Joshua Williams, 20. His three other gunshot victims who survived were April Vokes, 43; John Shively, 17; and Bryce Hendrickson, 20. Late in October, Hendrickson was found dead of an apparent drug overdose.

Rice said Hamad didn’t exercise a number of options that would have prevented the deaths, including blocking people on social media, staying in his house, calling police and not reloading his gun.

“While it is true that this event never would have happened if the 44-year-old driver of that mini van had even an ounce of common sense, it is equally true that your response to her poor judgment caused the death of two young people,” Rice said.

Throughout the year’s legal proceedings, Hamad showed no remorse.

He blamed the victims’ parents for raising their children wrong, questioned the legal system and assistant Trumbull County Prosecutor Christopher Becker’s motives, claimed his attorneys were incompetent and said evidence was withheld that would have proven his case.

On the day after sentencing, Hamad, through his attorney Geoff Oglesby, filed an appeal with the 11th District Court of Appeals. Among the reasons for Hamad’s appeal was ineffective counsel and not being allowed to use a defense expert, a forensic psychologist who claimed Hamad was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

During the trial, Hamad went on the record complaining about the tactics and actions of his main trial counsel, David Doughten and Robert Dixon. Prior to the opening of the mitigation phase, he asked Rice if he could fire them.

The mitigation phase brought to the stand both Dr. James Reardon, the forensic psychologist who testified that medical records showed Hamad had surgery in 2013 to remove a cancerous kidney, and Charles E. Richardson II, an employee of Covelli Properties, a business associate and former neighbor who talked about Hamad’s meticulous work habits.

Oglesby said he wished he could have done a better job for Hamad.

“At times, my hands were tied,” said Oglesby, who said he will carry on the case until other appellate counsel is appointed for Hamad. “It was an extremely sad case. Hopefully, we will get a do-over.”

Reporter Jon Wysochanski contributed to this report.