The sentencing hearing for Ryan Hamley, who prompted SWAT teams to surround a house on Delta Drive in December after he drunkenly fired a gun inside a bedroom with women and a girl inside, started off fine.
But it quickly deteriorated when the 27-year-old began talking about his troubles and started to get worked up. It culminated when he made an obscene gesture during the hearing, which caused Judge Philip Pallenberg to threaten to rethink the plea deal on the table.
“I’m not going to have that in my courtroom,” Pallenberg said. “If I see that again, if I see that kind of behavior again, I’m going to adjourn the hearing and set this over, and I’ll decide at the next hearing whether I’m rejecting this plea agreement. You don’t behave that way in my courtroom.”
Hamley pleaded guilty last month to third-degree assault and second-degree attempted weapons misconduct in connection with the Dec. 29, 2011 incident.
Prosecutors accused Hamley of barging into a friend’s home in the 4400 block of Delta Drive and shooting a bullet into a bedroom wall. The three women and 3-year-old girl were able to escape to a neighbor’s house without injury and called police, according to police.
The Juneau Police Department SWAT and negotiating teams responded and staked out the house for about 10 hours. At about 3:30 a.m., a person in the house sneaked outside to tell police Hamley was asleep, and gave them Hamley’s 1911 .45-caliber handgun, prosecutors said.
Hamley was arrested and indicted by a grand jury in January on three third-degree assault charges and two second-degree weapons misconduct charges.
On Thursday, Pallenberg accepted a plea deal reached with prosecutors that imposed a composite sentence of five years with three suspended. That means Hamley will have to serve two years in prison. He is also required to be on probation for three years after his release.
District Attorney David Brower told the judge that although no one was injured, it was still a serious case.
“In this case, he had a dangerous instrument, and he was acting recklessly with it,” Brower said. “He’s lucky no one was hurt, and we’re not here on more serious charges.”
Brower said Hamley’s criminal history was “not insignificant” because he has previous convictions for assault, theft and interfering with an officer. Hamley did not have any prior felony convictions.
In turn, Hamley’s attorney, Grace Lee, told the judge she was not denying the seriousness of this case or trying to make excuses, but her client had recently fallen onto rough times.
Lee said Hamley became homeless a week before the incident and was living on the snowy streets, “trying to find something to eat, trying to get a job, trying to do what he has to do to survive.”
“He was possibly suffering from hypothermia, he possibly — there probably was something going on that was physical and mental due to the strains put on Mr. Hamley due to his environment,” Lee said. “It was a man who was placed in a desperate situation, and something snapped.”
Lee said Hamley has done extremely well at Lemon Creek Correctional Center, where he has been in custody for about five months and has earned certificates for completing several programs.
“I think that when Mr. Hamley has a warm place to live, food to eat, a job to do and the ability to abstain from alcohol because it’s not available, Mr. Hamley can stay out of trouble. He can be successful. He can be rehabilitated,” Lee said. “... I think Mr. Hamley is too young for anybody to give up on him quite yet.”
The judge then asked Hamley if there was anything he would like to say before the sentence was imposed.
“Not really,” Hamley said.
Then he added, “Except that it’s like, you know, what can I say? I’m a nut, you know? It’s like I thank the Lord every day that he busted me for being an alcohol (sic). It’s like I’m not exactly sorry — I don’t remember a lot of things that are in these things. I know I just lost my mind, I slipped, and I’m paying the price for it. It’s (inaudible) that simple. I guess it is serious, but what can I say, you know?”
Pallenberg then took a moment of pause, and told Hamley that he seems to have a lot of anger inside of him, which prompted a lengthy response from Hamley.
“I don’t know why it’s the case, but it seems as though you’ve got a tremendous amount of anger in you. I don’t know why that is,” Pallenberg said.
“I feel like I was betrayed,” Hamley replied. “I feel like I was let down. I feel like I gave everything to people, and this rage that you see is not something that is there all the time. But when I get stuck thinking about it, and people just looking at me, acting like they know me over here — “ Hamley nodded at the district attorney — “I’m not trying to be disrespectful to the district attorney or anybody looking at this case or anything, but you don’t know anything about this situation. I agree that my actions weren’t, well I say, correct, positive or any way justifiable. However, you know it’s like I just, I just, I got let down. It’s by my own doing. It’s like I made decisions over a long period of time that led to this situation that I was in, and that is my own mistake. But, and, thinking about it does get me kind of worked up, but it’s like I really just don’t think, I don’t think it’s fair to sit back and like, you know, pretend that you know what’s going on with a situation, or that there’s a remedy for this, or anything you know? It’s already done. But the one thing that could really help I believe is the opportunity to have a job, and a work (sic), and everything. I was turned down, you know, by all these things, but like I said, you know, I made my own decisions that led to this incident, and it’s actually a relief to be here. It’s a relief to be in Lemon Creek. It’s a relief to be, finally — I don’t want to say answering for my past, but it really, it really is nice to have the opportunity to start fresh again. And there is a lot of anger in there. There’s a long, long, long, long history of rage and violence that started at a very, very young age. Whether it was my fault or not isn’t the issue. But it was there, and you know, working through it is something that I am still learning to do, and it’s nice.”
The turning point in Hamley’s demeanor was shortly after Pallenberg told him that being let down and being betrayed is a part of life.
“The people around us are human, and they do things we wish they wouldn’t do sometimes,” Pallenberg said. “And the question is, how are you going to deal with?”
The judge added, “You said that Mr. Brower doesn’t know you, and doesn’t have any way to know you, you’re absolutely right — and neither do I. All I know is what’s on a piece of paper and what I hear in a courtroom. That’s the system for better or for worse because I wasn’t there that night. Cases come in front of me every day, and I was never there, and I still gotta make the call, and he’s still gotta do his job,” Pallenberg said while nodding to Brower.
Pallenberg said Hamley has dealt with troubles in the past by being violent, which he found troubling.
“It either stops or you’re going to spend a longer and longer period of time in jail,” the judge said. “This incident, I mean, I don’t mean to belabor the point, could have been hugely serious. If a bullet fired off and hit somebody, you know you’d be looking at decades in prison, not two years.”
At this point, Hamley interrupted, and quipped, “I could also be looking at being frozen to death in the streets somewhere, or whatever, you know. It’s like I’m not trying to make excuses, but, you know, if I take the food out of your mouth, put you in the gutter, hold you down and call you a piece of s--- for it, and I mean, and then there’s no one to help you. And the organizations (that are) supposed to help you don’t help you. I’m not trying to use this as a justification, but someone might snap. And it’s like there’s a long history of that. You know, the people that I was getting mad at — yes, my parents were involved — but as a juvenile, the people that I was getting mad at were the people calling me n-----, and I’m not even black. And they’re the ones that are kicking me in the face saying they don’t like me because I’m black. And when I fought back, and I’m the one that gets arrested? And I’m the one that’s called (sic) anger management? I get pills shoved down my throat. I get told I’m what’s wrong with society. What do you expect? Do you expect somebody to be positive? I mean, I’m trying to be positive. I want to be positive, but that’s — “
Hamley’s attorney whispered in his ear, and Hamley then told the judge, “Excuse me. Sometimes I get worked up, and I feel like I don’t have an opportunity to respond at times. People sit back and write about me, and they put things in the paper — Miss Emily Russo Miller — and they think they talk like that, you know? I don’t feel like I ever have enough time to say anything.”
Pallenberg at this point told Hamley, frankly, “I’m not sure that you’re really helping yourself.”
“Yes, I’m not,” Hamley agreed.
That ended the back-and-forth dialogue, and Hamley leaned back in his seat as the judge read aloud the terms of the plea agreement. As Pallenberg listed off the conditions of probation, Hamley turned around to face this reporter and make an obscene gesture with his middle finger. When Hamley turned back around to face Pallenberg, he stated, “Oh. I’m listening.”
“You’re doing a little more than listening,” Pallenberg said before warning him that he would end the hearing if his behavior continued.
As part of his conditions of release, Hamley is not allowed to drink alcohol, go into a bar or liquor store or possess firearms and is required to take anger management classes if recommended by a probation officer.
• Contact reporter Emily Russo Miller at 523-2263 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.