S.P. Teenager Sentenced for Role in Cameron Murder
A Southern Pines teen will spend at least four years in prison for helping killers get rid of a gun, despite his assistance to law-enforcement officers investigating the murder.
The body of Jonathan Elee Grice, 27, was found May 27, 2007, wrapped in sheets and a tarp amid burned furniture and clothing on a trash pile near his Cameron home.
Grice had last been seen by his mother six days before his body was discovered. He had been shot in the head.
Deputies originally charged Grice's live-in girlfriend, Jessica Denise White, 24, and Albert Devonte "Von" Brown, 26, of Pinehurst, with murder, robbery and conspiracy to commit robbery. White and Brown also had a boyfriend-girlfriend relationship, according to the Sheriff's Office.
Later, they filed the same charges against James Allen Hammonds. He was just 17 at the time but turned 18 before last week's hearing.
Hammonds was released pending trial to the custody of his grandfather on electronic house arrest.
White hanged herself in jail. Brown is serving a sentence of 151 to 191 months in the prison after pleading guilty to second-degree murder as part of an agreement.
Hammonds and his family approached investigators after he was charged, according to Assistant District Attorney Peter Strickland, who conceded that Hammonds' help was substantial.
A guilty plea to second-degree murder replaced the original charges, which the state dismissed. That was done to bring a felony charge before the court without going through the grand jury, according to Superior Court Judge D. Jack Hooks Jr.
"He realizes that he will have to serve an active sentence," attorney Arthur Donadio told Hooks Thursday morning.
Donadio submitted a thick packet of information to support a defense request for extraordinary mitigation in sentencing.
Hammonds' IQ was in the range of 76 to 79, according to testimony that described him as generally a good, helpful young man who had trouble understanding things.
Strickland summarized the state's case, contending that the plan was to rob Grice of drugs and money. Brown, he said, gave the gun to Hammonds for him to dispose of in the woods after the murder.
Grice's father, in an unsworn statement in court, told of looking for his son for four days before finding him dead, thrown out like trash.
"You are losing part of your life," he told Hammonds. "It's a tragedy, in a way, for you to go down on somebody else's account. Don't listen to other people, listen to your own heart."
Detective Sgt. Cathy Williams, of the Moore County Sheriff's Department, was called as a witness for the defense. She told Hooks how Hammonds' help made it possible to prosecute the case after White killed herself.
"I was the lead investigator," Williams said. "I spoke with the defendant and his family. His grandfather brought him up. He cooperated fully, with the assistance of his family -- went out to try to locate the weapon. He showed full remorse, got sick and threw up -- he just couldn't believe he actually did anything like this. He just thought it was going to be a robbery. His cooperation resulted in our getting the guilty plea from Brown. He fully wanted to do the right thing."
Hammonds had been baby-sitting White's children that evening, while White and Brown went to Grice's home, Williams said. White first made sure Grice was asleep, then called Brown on his cell phone to come over, according to her testimony.
Jo-An Hammonds, the defendant's mother, also testified.
"He is my son," she said, trying hold back tears. "But I told him this was somebody else's child. He had to do the right thing. He said, 'Mommie, I want to help,' and he did.
"I ain't been the best mother, but I got myself right with God -- tried to make my family go to church -- but he wanted to spend time with his sister, live with her. It's hard to explain (sobbing) Slow learning runs in our family.
"He got picked on in school. He's partly deaf. Kids picked on him, called him dumb when he didn't know what the teacher said. He couldn't hear, but we didn't know. I have five girls. He was the only son."
She said her son quit school in the eighth grade because he was tired of being picked on by other students.
"Seems like he has been in the eighth grade a long time," Jo-An Hammonds said.
His grandfather, James Allen Hammonds, had temporary custody of his grandson pending trial.
"I am 77 years old -- I can't hardly work," he testified. "He helps me. Anything I ask him to do, he'll do it. He's a good boy -- just got mixed up with the wrong crowd. I would appreciate it if the -- I am not taking up for what he done -- but he deserves a break. I want the court to be as lenient as as possible. Take care of him."
"It is true that he was very helpful, but only after his family got involved," Strickland said. "It is true that after the suicide he was the only witness we had. We wouldn't have been able to proceed with Albert Brown's case. The defendant got involved with the wrong crowd. Because of his low IQ, Hammonds was susceptible to others, but there are plenty with similar IQs who are leaders."
Hooks sentenced Hammonds at the low end of the range: 52 to 72 months with credit for time served and recommendation that Hammonds benefit from any and all educational opportunities and drug treatment available through the prison system.
Hooks also said he would submit Donadio's request to the Department of Corrections that Hammonds not be housed in the same unit as Brown or allowed to communicate with him.
Contact John Chappell at 783-5841 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
More like this story