Appeal denied for Dolores man who pleaded guilty in murder

Monday, July 9, 2018 4:42 PM

An appeal by Luther A. Hampson, who is serving a 25-year prison sentence for the murder of Jonathan Hayes in 2012 near Dolores, has been denied.

After sentencing in 2013, Hampson filed a motion seeking post-conviction relief claiming ineffective defense counsel, but the motion was denied without a hearing.

On appeal, Hampson argued that the motion be granted because defense counsel did not fully investigate evidence of self-defense. Hampson also claimed in the appeal that he was coerced into pleading guilty to second-degree murder.

But in a July 5 ruling, the Colorado Court of Appeals denied Hampson’s appeal for lack of merit.

“We are not persuaded,” wrote Appeals Court Judge Gilbert Roman. “Despite defendant’s contentions, we conclude the record clearly establishes that defendant is not entitled to relief.”

In 2013, Hampson pleaded guilty to second-degree murder for the death of Hayes, 27, whose body was found by hikers on Jan. 14, 2012, in a remote wooded area off County Road T, west of Dolores. Hampson was sentenced in 2013 by District Judge Doug Walker to 25 years, plus five years parole upon release.

In his appeal, Hampson claimed that his attorneys were ineffective because they failed to interview three witnesses Hampson claimed had information to support a self-defense case.

Specifically, Hampson asserts that his cellmate in jail and the cellmate’s wife could have testified that the victim was looking for a knife in the month before the altercation. He claims another witness could have testified to the victim’s collection of dangerous knives.

Had the witnesses been interviewed, Hampson said, he would have pursued a self-defense at trial.

But in appealing the denial, the three-judge panel said the attorney acted reasonably, because of the “limited potential value of the witnesses’ testimony in the case.”

The appeal judges also stated that Hampson did not become aware of the potential self-defense witnesses until in jail, and “does not assert that his cellmate or the other potential witnesses would have impacted his belief in the need to used deadly force at the time of the altercation — an essential element of self-defense.”

A witness’ claims that the victim “was looking for knife prior to his death is insufficient to support a claim of self-defense,” according to the decision. “This testimony could just as easily indicate that the victim was looking to add to his already existing collection.”

Regarding Hampson’s claim that he was coerced into entering a guilty plea, the appeals court was also not persuaded.

Hampson claimed that he was coerced into entering a guilty plea, because defense counsel failed to ensure his plea was knowing and voluntary after he notified them he was under an extreme level of duress due to harassment by jail mates. He also said the defense refused to seek a continuance in order to pursue a self-defense theory, and ignored his requests to see a mental health professional.

But the appeals court points to court records that show Hampson stated he understood the plea agreement and acted knowingly. Additionally, the defendant told the court that no one had “forced (him) into this plea.”

Regarding failing to respond to claims of harassment and need for a mental health professional, the appeals court decision points to courtroom testimony in which Hampson is asked whether defense counsel did “all the things that (defendant) asked them to do,” and defendant stated that they had, and that he was satisfied with defense counsel’s representation.

Hayes, of Dolores, died from a knife wound to the neck and had suffered head injuries, according to a coroner report. Montezuma County sheriff deputies found blood and the handle of a straight razor near his body.

It was reported that the men had a verbal argument about Dec. 31, 2011. The two were last seen together when they were dropped off near County Road T on Jan. 6.

Hampson later emerged from a canyon more than a mile away and sought help at a residence there, according to court records. The resident at the home told investigators Hampson had a cut on his hand and blood on his clothing.