Fourth day of Hambel trial testimony concludes

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The fourth day of testimony in the Hambel double murder trial ended early due to the Veterans Day holiday.

Hambel stands accused of shooting his cousin, Valerie Shelton Dicus, 37, and her boyfriend, Joe Hobson, 36, at a home on Small Street in Salem Aug. 20, 2016, where Dicus was staying at the time with her father, who was incarcerated at the time of the incident, and her two half-brothers.

The jury heard the testimony of Sergeant Merritt Toomey, who has been with the Indiana State Police for nearly 26 years and a crime scene investigator for almost 11 years, processing hundreds of crime scenes. He said about half of them were death investigations. He’s also been an instructor in defensive, or control, firearm tactics since the late 1990’s.

Toomey said he was called to the scene and arrived at Small Street around 3 a.m. He called his associate, Phillip D’Angelo, whose testimony was heard Tuesday regarding the methods he used to gather 3D images of the home, who arrived at the scene as well. They examined the outside of the home, looking for evidence of footprints, which they did not find.

They entered 304 Small St. and did a walk-through and took notes, documenting the scene. Toomey said D’Angelo took photos of the outside of the home before coming in to use the FARO laster scanner to get the 3D images, and Toomey took photos of the interior of the home, including photos of the shell casings and bullets that were still in the home at the time.

When asked by prosecuting attorney Mark Wynn, Toomey said he found no evidence of illegal drug use in the home aside from a small bag of marijuana and a smoking device in one of the bedrooms of Logan and Seth Shelton. In earlier testimony Tuesday, Seth Shelton admitted he, Dicus and Hobson had used marijuana the night of Aug. 19.

Toomey said a sample was taken from the carpet of blood found near where Dicus’ head would have been after she’d been shot and from the couch, next to the television on the opposite side from where Dicus was found. There was no indication of anyone having walked through the blood that pooled there.

Toomey said seven shell cases were found at the scene, the same number of bullets held by the gun believed to be the murder weapon: three in the hallway near the living room, one near the entrance to the dining room, one on a cushion sitting on the recliner, one under the dining room table and another close to the front door. He said investigators also found two bullets at the scene, one underneath the south end of the couch, the side closer to the side door, and one from inside the front door.

He said guns usually eject casings straight to the right of the firearm or to the right and back.

“Seeing them in the same general location, I would conclude the shooter was in the same general location,” said Toomey.

Toomey said he didn’t see much evidence that the shooter would have left the area of the side door, keeping largely behind the couch that was positioned along the wall that held the side door and the recliner that was placed at a roughly 90º angle to the couch.

He said he saw the pool of blood from the shot that killed Dicus and passive blood drops in other places in the room, consistent with someone wandering slowly through the room, not with someone involved in an altercation as Hambel had told Detective David Mitchell had occurred. Toomey said he did not recall seeing blood spattering on the walls or recliner, none at all he would attribute to Dicus aside from the pool on the floor and a small spattering on the floor next to the pool.

Both victims had been removed from the scene at the time Toomey arrived and he was told there was blood on the front door that got there when EMTs were removing the bodies from the home.

The casings, along with the projectiles found by Toomey and Medical Examiner Donna Stewart, were sent to a ballistics expert in Evansville, who found the casings and projectiles did come from the Kel-Tec .32 caliber handgun found by Mitchell in Hambel’s bathroom on Aug. 20.

Toomey also demonstrated for the jury how he trains officers to react when someone might try to take their weapon or when someone has another weapon pointed at them during an altercation. He said a gun would still fire and the slide would still move if someone was squeezing it. In the video interview shown Thursday, Hambel told Mitchell he managed to grab ahold of the gun Hobson allegedly took from Hambel and held the slide so it couldn’t move.
Toomey said if a person did attempt that, it would be very difficult and would result in at least some injury to the hand holding the gun. There would be gunshot residue on both parties’ hands as well. Toomey said the medical examiner found no evidence of gun shot residue on Hobson’s hands and earlier testimony indicated there was no gun shot residue on Hambel’s hands, either.

Wynn showed Toomey a photo Toomey had taken of a shotgun found in the home. Toomey said he saw the gun and examined it to see if it was loaded. It was not and appeared to not have been moved in some time. He repeated the only ballistics found at the scene were from the .32 caliber Kel-Tec. A baseball bat was also found and photographed. Toomey said it had no blood or anything on it that indicated it had been moved. Both the shotgun and the bat were examined, but not taken into evidence.

The second individual to testify was Washington County Chief Deputy Brent Miller, who is also a detective with the Washington County Sheriff’s Department.

He said, as chief deputy, part of his duties is to monitor the communication platforms used by inmates at the jail. Inmates are given an identification number they use to connect to the communication system and they must log in with their PIN number to use that phone and texting system. Inmates are informed all communication is being monitored. Text messages are saved to a hard drive, which Miller maintains.

Prosecutor Dustin Houchin gave the jury, but did not display for the gallery, a copy of three pages with text messages written by Hambel to someone outside the jail, messages that discussed Hambel’s case, send at 10:30, 10:53 and 10:59 p.m. on Nov. 3, 2017. After the jury viewed the text messages, neither Houchin nor defense attorney Mark Clark had anything to ask Miller.

Houchin later revealed he declined to show the text messages on the screens in the courtroom for the gallery to view because they would have been difficult to read. When asked if the media could view the messages in hard copy format like the jury, he asked Judge Larry Medlock, who he said would take the matter under advisement.

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