Testimony in the Hambel murder trial continued on Wednesday, with the jury hearing first from two Salem Police Department officers who Joe Hambel, 30, spoke with hours before the prosecution says he executed his cousin, Valerie Dicus, 37, and her boyfriend, Joe Hobson, 36, early in the morning on August 20, 2016.
Detective Ronnie Mays, who has been with the SPD for 15 years, was not on duty that day and found out about the shooting when he was called to assist at the scene around 2 a.m. on Aug. 20. Given the discussion he’d had with Hambel earlier that day, when he was called to assist, he suspected Hambel may have been involved, but did not know he had been declared a person of interest.
Mays had been introduced to Hambel earlier that year by a mutual friend and they shared a few encounters before the shooting. At one point, Hambel had approached Mays while Mays was assisting someone who became locked out of their car in the Rite-Aid parking lot at the corner of Jackson and South Main streets. Mays testified that Hambel pulled up and spoke to him, offering his help to unlock the door. He said Hambel also brought up an incident that had occurred on Aug. 5, 2016, wherein Dicus’ son and father became ill after smoking spice, allegedly given to them by Dicus. Dicus’ father, Tony Shelton, was later arrested for neglect of a dependent.
The next incident Mays spoke about occurred earlier the day before the shooting, around 6 p.m. on Aug. 19. Mays said he was out on his back porch with his wife and grandchildren when Hambel came to his back gate and wanted to speak with him. Mays said he went with Hambel out to the front of his house, where Hambel further expressed concern about drug activity in both the community and, specifically, 304 Small St., where the aforementioned overdose had occurred. Mays said Hambel brought up the name Valerie Dicus and, Mays said, as he didn’t know where Dicus was, he didn’t immediately pursue the information. Hambel asked how he could become a confidential informant for the police department and how he could help get drugs out of Washington County.
Mays said he told him to contact the drug tip hotline with any information and, if he received no satisfaction with that, Mays would facilitate a meeting with Hambel and Eric Mills, who heads up the drug team.
Mays said he didn’t have time to inform Mills of the conversation. By the time he was due back at the station for work, Dicus and Hobson were already dead.
Mays said Hambel seemed satisfied when he left Mays’ home and didn’t seem angry or agitated, just concerned.
Hambel’s attorney, Mark Clark, asked Mays if Hambel would have to prove he had knowledge of drug use in the county and Mays responded that was true.
Mills was called to the stand after Mays and said, as Mays did as well, that people frequently approach him with information and concerns about criminal activity, sometimes coming to his home to talk.
“We’re not always able to act immediately because information must be put together to build a case,” Mills said. “It’s not as easy as someone telling us about someone doing drugs and us kicking down their door.”
Mills discussed the process of a person becoming a confidential informant for the police and confirmed that Hambel had asked him about becoming a confidential informant.
Mills was working a hit-and-run wreck at the intersection of Jackson and South Main streets on Aug. 19 around 9:41 p.m. and said, as he was working, Hambel approached him.
“He said he’d spoken with Ronnie Mays who told him to talk to me,” said Mills. “He said he’d recently moved back into town and asked how he could help with the drug problem. He asked if I knew Valerie Dicus and that was one of the dealers he wanted to help with. I told him I had to finish working the crash, but that I would talk with him after.”
Mills said Hambel waited at the Circle K parking lot for Mills to finish and gave him his cell phone number when the men spoke after. Mills said he told him he would meet up with Hambel to discuss the matter further and at no point told Hambel he should go to gather information on his own, intimidate, purchase drugs or shoot anyone.
“Everything to do with an informant is controlled,” said Mills. “I would not say that to anyone. I would want to check them out first.”
'Like it was any other day'
Waiting at home for Hambel during this time was Jessica Reisert, his then-fiance and mother of Hambel’s 14-month-old son, born just four days after the shooting.
She testified that Hambel did own a 9 mm handgun, which he regularly carried in a holster on his hip, and another gun was locked in a safe under the bed. She said this gun was owned by Hambel’s cousin, who gave the gun to them as collateral for a $300-$400 loan, with the intent that they would not use or even remove the gun from the safe until the money was repayed. Reisert said Hambel had the keys to the lockbox.
She said she did recall a conversation held at Slack’s home about the incident of Tony Shelton and his teenage grandson becoming ill after using spice Dicus allegedly gave them. Reisert said, during the course of the conversation, someone did say Valerie should be killed because of “what she did to her son and father.”
“We were all angry,” she said.
Reisert said on Aug. 19, Hambel insisted on going to his mother’s house alone. He dropped Reisert off at a cousin’s house and returned to pick her up a few hours later, around 5 or 6 p.m.
She told the court she and Hambel were friends with another couple — RJ Sease and Amanda Ledford — living at the Aspen Meadows apartment complex and the four of them were hanging out that evening. She said Sease and Hambel left together twice, the first time with the intent to go to Circle K for drinks and cigarettes. They left in Reisert’s blue Hyundai Elantra and returned. They continued to hang out.
“I was walking the sidewalk a lot because I was in labor,” she said.
The second time the two men left, they took Hambel’s red Honda. Sease was interested in purchasing the vehicle and Hambel was going to let Sease test drive the vehicle. They were also going to return to Circle K for cigarettes for Ledford, as they had picked up the wrong kind before. When they left, Hambel was driving. Reisert said she doesn’t recall the exact time, but knows it was after midnight, when the two returned.
“RJ looked rattled,” she said. “I could tell by his body language something was wrong, but I didn’t know what … before they left, he was all smiles and happy. When he came back, there was none of that.”
She saw she saw Hambel hug Sease after they got out of the car.
Reisert said Hambel told her nothing of what happened while he and Sease were gone. The couple smoked a cigarette after Sease left and then Reisert went inside to take a shower. Later, she said Hambel took her to the hospital in Clark County because she was in labor, but said the hospital sent them back home as her contractions didn’t indicate labor. They got home around 7 a.m. and both went to sleep.
Hambel’s mother, Carol Slack, had come to stay with the couple’s children while they were at the hospital, but left the morning of Aug. 20 to go to the food bank. When she returned, she told Reisert that Dicus had been killed.
Reisert said she went to wake Hambel up and told him someone had killed Dicus. He just looked shocked, Reisert said, and didn’t say anything about any involvement he may have had.
“He got up and got dressed,” said Reisert, her voice shaking. “Like it was any other day.”
Scott Pratt, an electronic communication technologist with the Indiana State Police outlined how his department analyses wifi connections in equipped phones to determine location.
“Google’s business model is to collect all the data they can all the time,” he said. “Android phones are all assigned a gmail address … Cell phones are always pinging, even if the wifi is turned off.”
He showed on a map the locations where Hambel’s phone connected to different wifi routers as he drove through town that night. He was in the Small Street area from 9:28 to 9:49 p.m., at the square by 9:50 and at Circle K by 9:54 p.m., where he stayed until 10:19 p.m. and by 10:22 p.m., he and Sease had arrived back at the Aspen Meadow apartments. As testimony indicated with different witnesses, movement was seen again just after midnight — six minutes at Circle K, 12:23 to 12:41 a.m. in the Small Street area and back at Aspen Meadows at 12:46 a.m.
'I … never went to sleep'
Sease, 17 at the time of the incident, told the court he left with Hambel the first time for drinks and cigarettes at Circle K, but went on the bypass to get there, a much longer route to take to get from Aspen Drive to Circle K, but admitted he could be mistaken when confronted with evidence from the cell phone’s tracking. Instead of going to Circle K, Hambel took them to Small Street.
“He backed into a driveway across the street,” said Sease. “He got out of the car and walked toward the house. He got to the corner of the house and it looked like he was looking in the windows. I didn’t see what he was doing. It was dark and he was moving around.”
Sease said Hambel returned to the car and said nothing as they drove away. On their way back to the apartments, they stopped at Circle K and that’s where Hambel saw and spoke with Mills.
They arrived back at the apartments and Sease went to use the restroom in Hambel’s apartment. When he came out of the bathroom, he said Hambel called him into the master bedroom and showed him a gun, not the one Sease had seen frequently on Hambel’s hip.
As Sease was leaving for Pekin to pick up some tires, he said it looked like Hambel was about to put the gun in an ankle holster and strap it to his leg. As Sease and Ledford were out, Sease said Hambel was texting Ledford, asking when the couple would be back. When they returned, Hambel suggested taking Sease out in his red Honda, which Sease was considering purchasing. They left after midnight, with Sease in the passenger seat.
Again, Sease assumed they were going to Circle K to buy his girlfriend the right cigarettes and back to the apartments, but after they got the cigarettes, Sease said Hambel drove back to Small Street.
“He parked the car, shut the lights off and got out,” said Sease. He remembered Hambel had left the car running and the radio off. Sease stayed in the vehicle and watched as Hambel disappeared into the darkness on the property. As he couldn’t see anything, Sease said he reclined the seat back and scrolled through Facebook on his phone for what Sease recalls as five to 10 minutes, until he heard the sound of gunfire.
“I couldn’t really tell where the shots were coming from, but it sounded like the house,” he said. He recalled he saw Hambel run back to the car and held the gun out. It looked empty.
“He said he’d took care of Washington County’s biggest drug problems,” said Sease. “… If I recall, he said he shot her in the head and then shot him.”
Then they left Small Street and returned to the apartments. Before turning into the parking lot, Sease said Hambel turned to him and said, “If you tell anyone, I have a bigger gun I’ll use on you.”
After they got out of the car, Sease said Hambel hugged him and said, “You can trust me.”
Sease said he then got into his truck, which was parked in the lot in front of Hambel’s building and drove up the hill to park in front of his own building. He waited there in his truck for a few minutes and then went inside.
“I went and sat on my bed and never went to sleep,” he said.
Sease said he didn’t go to the police because he was afraid Hambel would make good on his threat.
“He probably would have gotten to me before anyone else,” he said.
By the next afternoon, he was talking to police after Indiana State Police Detective Joshua Banet found him pulling into a parking spot in front of his building after going to Scottsburg and Jeffersonville to deal with the sale of a vehicle that morning.
Sease admits to not being truthful initially due to his fear of Hambel as Banet interviewed him in the parking lot, but eventually did tell Banet the truth during an interview held at the Sheriff’s Department on Aug. 20.
Testimonies continue tomorrow. We will be updating you as the trial progresses.