Prosecutorial misconduct bungles murder case against suspected shooter
10/11/2017 12:44 pm PDT
It is a word we use often: Justice, defined as "the quality of being fair and reasonable."
When it comes to murder of Demitri Hampton, there's certainly nothing fair and reasonable going on, that's for sure.
It's a story of heartache and murder, with an almost unbelievable ending that cost one lawyer his job.
Demitri Hampton's family tells Crime Watch Daily Special Legal Correspondent Amy Dash that his dream was to join the Air Force and work in criminal justice.
"There's a lot of violence out there that's going on, so he wanted to help his community and other people's community," said Demitri's sister Jennifer Davis.
And it made sense. Demitri Hampton was raised to serve and protect.
"When my mother died, he said to me 'Mommy, who is going to keep the family together now?' And I said 'You are. That's your responsibility, Demitri,'" said Demitri's mother Juanita Trent.
Little did Demitri know that call to duty to protect his own family would come sooner than expected. And it would cost this young hero his life.
All was quiet inside Demitri's cousin Latisha Diego's modest home in Flanders, New York in the frigid early morning hours on January 27, 2013.
Latisha's boyfriend Eric Walker was by her side. Down the hall, Latisha's 16-year-old daughter was tucked safely in her bed. Latisha's cousin Demitri was still awake. His girlfriend Francis was down in the basement of the home at about 3 a.m.
In a split-second, a peaceful night is shattered by horrifying sounds of terror.
"Gunman kicked my door in, came in the house, held myself and my boyfriend hostage," said Demitri's cousin Latisha Diego.
A raging masked invader points a gun at Latisha and her boyfriend Eric.
"He's asking me 'Where is it?'" Latisha tells Crime Watch Daily. "I said 'Where is what?' He was shaking his gun and he's covering my face with a pillow. I thought he was going to shoot me. And then I hear someone in the other room screaming 'Don't move, don't move.' I'm screaming because I thought it was my daughter. My 16-year-old was home at the time."
But the teen is huddled in her bedroom closet. She stays quiet.
In the basement, Demitri's girlfriend Francis hears all the chaos upstairs and calls out Demitri's name, inadvertently giving herself away to the gunmen.
"This fellow went down the stairs, pointed a shotgun at her and told her to come upstairs and sit on the living room couch," attorney Brendan Ahern tells Crime Watch Daily.
From the kitchen come the sounds of a knockdown, drag-out fight.
"There was an immense physical struggle that had occurred. There was a door knocked down," said Ahern.
It's Demitri, cornered by one of the armed intruders, but unwilling to give in. He fights to pry the weapon from the gunman's hands. Then, the distinct and deafening sounds of gunfire, and a voice crying out from the kitchen, a painfully familiar voice.
"The next thing I heard was Demitri yelling," said Latisha Diego. "I still had my face buried in the pillow when I heard Demitri yelling, and he came in the room, he was saying 'Call the police.' I just reached out for him and told him to just sit down.
"Whoever was in the house was gone," said Latisha.
It was only then that Latisha realized her beloved cousin had been shot. Blood was gushing from his chest. Latisha frantically calls 911.
Demitri Hampton hung on to life all the way to the hospital.
"My mom called me and said 'Demitri was shot,' and I'm like 'What?' She said 'Meet me at the hospital,'" said Demitri's brother Jamal Davis.
Minutes later the valiant young man took his final breath. Demitri Hampton died trying to be the protector he had promised his mother he would be.
Demitri Hampton had goals to serve and protect his community, and in his last moments alive he did just that, protecting his family from several armed men who stormed into their home.
Hampton fell victim to the very kind of senseless violence he so despised.
"He stood for a lot. He stood for positivity, togetherness in the community," said Demitri's sister Jennifer Davis. "He always wanted to help."
Demitri was just 21, a college student destined for a career in the Air Force and criminal justice, but cut down in a violent home invasion.
"He was lifeless, just like laying there, and I couldn't believe it," said Demitri's father Theodore Trent. "How in the hell -- excuse me, God -- how would someone take someone's life like that?"
Was this attack random or was the house targeted?
"Eric had hit the Lotto a couple of times, so they thought the money was in there," said Demitri's cousin Latisha Diego.
Eric Walker, Latisha's boyfriend, had won the lottery. But was there something more sinister that would elicit a home invasion?
"Eric Walker himself admitted that he had dealt drugs," said attorney Brendan Ahern.
But Walker insisted his drug dealing was all in the past.
Was Walker dealing drugs out of the house?
"No. That would make my house a crack house," said Latisha. "Nobody was selling anything."
Police radio exchanges that night confirm there was no evidence of dealing:
Officer 1: "Is this a drug house? Is this a burglar and drug rip?"
Officer 2: "The history in the call doesn't show any real drug activity."
As for Demitri, there's no obvious reason he would be the intended target.
Officer 2: "We don't have anything on him. He was never arrested. No rap."
Officer 1: "Really?"
With no visual witness identification and an uncertain motive, the masked men in black remain in the dark.
But what if it was sound, not sight that would provide a clue? Police get a break: The teen who hid in the closet during the home invasion said she recognized the voice of one of the assailants, a man she knew as Matthew Messiah Booker.
"I don't know what kind of relationship they had," said Latisha. "I just heard that she was hanging out with him."
And he knew where they lived. And it wouldn't be long before investigators say they could place Messiah Booker near the scene of the crime: police had reason to believe his cellphone was pinging off a tower near the home at the time of the murder.
Around town the rumor mill was repeatedly churning out the name Messiah Booker as the killer. Demitri's mother remembers one torturous anonymous phone call.
"I had the phone to my ear and they said, 'I can't get involved, the person who killed your son is Matthew Booker. They call him 'Messiah,' and I dropped the phone on the floor," said Juanita Trent. "I was screaming at the top of my head."
But there's still not enough to make an arrest. Until a surprise witness blows the lid off the case. Onika Walker was Messiah Booker's girlfriend -- and she was there that night.
"She spoke about a planning of a burglary that she had witnessed," said attorney Ahern.
In fact Onika Walker said she even drove one of the getaway cars the night of the murder.
"In terms of the prosecution theory, she put the co-defendants and herself at the time, place of the offense," said Ahern.
From court transcripts: "Messiah came running to my car." "...I kind of asked him, like what happened?" "Messiah and this guy were tussling back and forth, Messiah said that he pulled the trigger." "He said that he shot him and he saw blood."
In exchange for her testimony, Onika was charged with misdemeanor hindering prosecution, but four others would face charges of murder and burglary.
Messiah Booker, his brother Corry Wallace, his sister Danielle Hall and Wallace's stepson Michael Parrish. The motive? Armed robbery.
Corry Wallace would rat out his sibling Messiah as the shooter. For Messiah Booker's attorney, it wasn't exactly an act of brotherly love.
What did Messiah think when he found out his own brother was willing to testify against him?
"As you might imagine, that was a distressing moment to find out that your own flesh and blood is willing to do such an act. I think he felt betrayal," said Brendan Ahern, Messiah's defense attorney.
But for prosecutors, blood is not thicker than a solid conviction. The Suffolk County District Attorney is good to go.
Police and the prosecution are convinced they know who the triggerman is, and he's going to go to prison for a long time.
Matthew Messiah Booker, the man police say callously fired a 9-millimeter gun into the chest of a promising young college student, is defiant.
"I am innocent of all charges," Messiah Booker declares in court.
And in his mind, he's above the law.
"Every time they put on a robe, suit, uniform, badge, it's only a costume of deception," Messiah said in court.
"He has a philosophy that he is a sovereign citizen, that the American system of justice does not necessarily have jurisdiction over him," said Messiah Booker's defense attorney Brendan Ahern.
But Messiah's mantra falls on deaf ears. He and his alleged cohorts face murder charges. Messiah is thought to be the actual shooter.
Brendan Ahern is a former prosecutor turned defense lawyer.
"As a criminal defense attorney, this was my first jury trial," said Ahern.
And Messiah Booker is the first of four co-defendants to face judge and jury for the botched but murderous home invasion. Ahern knows his client is up against two compelling eyewitnesses who made deals with prosecutors.
"It was the mother of his child, that they had been together for a substantial period of time, and the brother of my client that were cooperated as witnesses and testified against him at trial," Ahern said.
Suffolk County Prosecutor Glenn Kurtzrock was also armed with damning cellphone tracking.
"There were cell tower evidence that indicated that the phone of some of the alleged participants were 'pinging' off of a tower nearby at or around the time of the offense," said Ahern.
And a 16-year-old witness in the home invasion claims she recognized Messiah's voice.
"The prosecutor was telling us this whole time 'Don't worry about it, this is a slam dunk, we got all the evidence, you know, we want these guys to turn on each other, and they already did,'" said Demitri Hampton's mother Juanita Trent.
But there would be no slam dunk -- in fact the case against Matthew Messiah Booker would end in a bombshell blowout.
The prosecutor is accused of egregious misconduct, allegations that rock the courtroom. Ahern discovers mid-trial that prosecutor Kurtzrock withheld critical evidence from the defense.
"It was a great volume of materials. It was hundreds of pages of notes and statements taken from witnesses," Brendan Ahern tells Crime Watch Daily.
Does he think the failure to turn over evidence was intentional?
"The only way that that could have been done is deliberately, methodically and systematically," said Ahern. "I stand by my position in court that it was intentional."
Ahern argued that the evidence withheld by Glenn Kurtzrock named other potential suspects.
"These were people that had made admissions to family members, that admitted that they played a role and gave details that in my view could only be known by people who had entered that home or had intimate knowledge of what had occurred inside the home," said Ahern. "But I didn't see a single shred of paperwork that indicated that those people had been interviewed and closed out as suspects."
"The appearance is obviously that somebody went through and surgically removed items that they felt would be harmful to their case," said attorney Craig McElwee, a member of the Suffolk County Criminal Bar Association.
It was more than a mess. The case against Messiah Booker was for all intents and purposes, decimated, as was Glenn Kurtzrock's career in the D.A's office.
As for Matthew Messiah Booker's murder charge, it was just too much of a gamble for prosecutors. The charge against him was dropped.
"It felt like they told me that my brother was killed all over again," said Demetri's sister Jennifer.
Booker gets the deal of a lifetime and his murder charge is dropped. He'll plead to five years for attempted burglary.
"It's like another stab in the back, another stab in the heart," said Demitri's brother Jamal.
Demitri's mother has a message for the world's luckiest formerly accused killer.
"Matthew has a dark soul, no concern for the life that he took from our family. He is heartless," Demitri Hampton's mother Juanita Trent said in court.
But in this case, the more poignant message is the one his heartbroken mother gave to the Suffolk County D.A.:
"This is not justice nor will we ever get justice for our loved one," said Juanita in court. "This court has taken the only thing that truly mattered to me, and this is trust for the criminal system. It has failed."
"It's a culture where sometimes the idea of seeking justice gets lost in the idea of seeking a conviction," said Craig McElwee.
The district attorney wrote a letter of apology to Demitri's family, stating in part:
"...the conduct of the prosecutor was inexcusable...
"...the consequences are devastating and unnecessarily inflict more pain on those left behind to cope....."
Even though prosecutors apologized, they're convinced they nabbed the right killer. But without his defense being permitted to see all the required evidence, the state's case is destroyed.
The Suffolk County District Attorney's Office did not respond to Crime Watch Daily requests for comment.
"Like I said, I'm not going to be making any public comments on it," said Glenn Kurtzrock when we caught up with the former prosecutor in a parking lot.
And on this day, the scales of justice deliver a five-year punishment that in no way equals the value of Demitri Hampton's life.
"Someone got away with murder," Judge John Collins said in court.
Still not good enough for Messiah Booker. He tried to withdraw that plea on the day of sentencing, causing a ruckus in the courtroom with constant interruptions. The judge ordered Booker out of the courtroom.
But Messiah Booker is not about to have the last word, or the last memory of a murder case gone wrong. That's a privilege reserved only for Demitri Hampton.
"Everything that I learned about Demitri Hampton indicated to me that he was a fine young man with a bright future," the judge said in court.
"It's not about the justice at this point, we know that's gone," Juanita tells Crime Watch Daily. "Demitri's at peace. Demitri don't know anything about the justice."