After deliberating for just over four hours, the jury in the case of the State of Indiana vs. Joe Hambel returned with a guilty verdict for all five counts against him.
Hambel, 30, was found guilty of two counts of murder, two counts of felony murder and one count of criminal trespassing, in the death of his cousin, Valerie Shelton Dicus, 37, and her boyfriend, Joe Hobson, 36, in the early morning hours of Aug. 20, 2016.
Earlier on Tuesday, attorneys presented closing arguments in the case.
County Prosecutor Dustin Houchin repeated what he said in his opening statements.
“This is about who decides,” he said.
Houchin said Hambel took matters into his own hands after his uncle, Tony Shelton, used drugs with his grandon, Dicus’ son, and both overdosed on Aug. 5, 2016. Sometime after that, Hambel, his then-fiance Jessica Reisert, and his mother, Carol Slack, were discussing the situation and someone suggested Dicus, who allegedly provided the drugs that sickened Shelton and his grandson, should die for what she did.
Houchin said by 9:30 p.m., Aug. 19, 2016, Hambel was looking in the windows of 304 Small St., where Dicus was living with her half-brothers, Logan and Seth Shelton, and by 12:46 a.m. Aug. 20, both Dicus and her boyfriend, who was there that night, were dead, shot by Hambel.
“RJ Sease says he parked on the street and left the car running. By his own words, the defendant pushed the door open and let himself in — his words. He summarily executes Valerie Dicus and Joe Hobson and runs out. Less than 30 secons later, Seth and Logan Shelton [Dicus’ half-brothers living in the home at the time] were in the hallway witnessing the brutal aftermath.”
Houchin said he staked the home out twice before committing the shooting. He had, regardless of which story given during the trial the jury might believe, Houchin said, entered the home with the intent to commit a crime, admitted it to both Sease, who was in the car Hambel drove to the home both times that night, and to Detective David Mitchell of the Indiana State Police. Neither Seth nor Logan Shelton heard any fighting and there was no evidence indicating a struggle had occurred. Hambel hid the gun he used, which was supposed to be locked in a lockbox under their bed and was not the one he was regularly seen with. The gun matched all casings and projectiles found at the scene and inside the bodies of Dicus and Hobson, and was not acting in self defense or sudden heat.
“Sudden heat indicates an absence of rational thought,” said Houchin. “He’d been thinking about it for days. He went to the house twice and looked in the windows. He broke and entered. You can’t claim sudden heat if you break and enter. If there was a fight, he caused it by breaking in. If he didn’t break in, none of this would have happened.”
Self defense, he argued, wasn’t applicable because legally, a person is not justified in using force if they are committing a crime, provoked an attack or entered willingly into combat. If the jury found him guilty of trespassing that night, Houchin said, he couldn’t claim self defense.
“There is no evidence he did not trespass,” said Houchin.
“If you believe our version of the events, he’s guilty of murder,” said Houchin. “If you believe any one of his stories, he’s guilty of felony murder. You can be guilty of both.”
Houchin scoffed at the idea that Hambel was acting in “sudden heat,” but that’s something Clark said could apply.
“Hobson took the gun from the defendent,” said Clark. “Sudden heat would apply when you reacted to someone putting gun in your face … When you really determine who knows what and what’s shown, you’ll see it’s a sudden heat case. Not murder or felony murder … I trust you’ll give a decision you’re confident in.”
He argued that no one knew what went on in the house during the 20 minutes Hambel was at Small Street on the night in question. He said Logan and Seth Shelton only reported hearing four shots and questioned, if they didn’t hear the other three, what else did they not hear?
“Seth was wearing headphones — you saw them in the pictures,’ he said. “Logan was trying to sleep. He took some kind of medication for a headache. He didn’t know what it was. Valerie gave it to him … They didn’t see anyone come or leave. Seth said he saw something big drive down the street. Joe Hambel and RJ Sease were in a Honda. That’s not big.”
He questioned why, if Hambel hadn’t stepped any further into the home than the foyer, why both doors were found open. If this was an execution-style shooting, why wasn’t Joe also shot in the head if he and Dicus had both been sitting on the couch?
“Something else happened in that house,” he said.
During his rebuttal, Houchin said the facts still add up for felony murder, repeating that whether he went in with the intent to kill Hobson and Dicus, they still were shot following his breaking and entering and while he was committing a felony crime. Houchin said there was nothing to indicate Hambel was inside the house for the full time cell phone records show he was at Small Street the second time, just that he was near it.
As for why he took RJ Sease with him?
“Because he’s The Punisher,” said Houchin. “He doesn’t want to go to jail, but he wants credit. That’s why he took RJ. That’s why he showed up to his interviews with Detective Mitchell wearing a Punisher T-shirt. He wants to be seen as strong. He’s this unemployed, anxiety-ridden, depressed guy, but he wants people to believe he’s strong, so he open-carries and posts things on Facebook about shooting your local drug dealer.”
Voluntary manslaughter, Houchin argued, doesn’t apply and neigher does self defense. By breaking in, Houchin said, he initiated any conflict he may have encountered.
In the end, though, two people lost their lives that night.
“Valerie made bad choices, but she was a daughter, a mother and a sister,” Houchin continued. “People loved Valerie. Her life had value. Joe Hambel took that away from her. Joe Hobson made bad choices, but he was a son, a brother and nephew and people loved him. His life had value and Joe Hambel took it.”