Cameron Hamlin's brother was hoping for a sense of relief.
Cameron's father wanted closure and a return to the life he knew before his son was murdered 6 years ago.
Cameron's sister, Jasmine, who flew home to Delaware from Atlanta on Thursday to witness the execution of the man who killed her brother, felt she needed to be there for Cameron.
"It's not something I was excited to go home for," said Jasmine, 23, who is studying fashion merchandising at the Art Institute of Atlanta. "But I realize it's a chapter closing, and I want to be with my family."
Before her brother was killed Sept. 24, 2006, Jasmine Hamlin hadn't thought much about the death penalty. After 28-year-old Shannon M. Johnson was convicted of his murder, she said, she went back and forth, never settling on it so long as Johnson never left prison.
"When you're put in a situation like this, your heart changes," she said. Regardless of her feelings about the death penalty, she said that for her brother's sake, she felt she needed to be at Johnson's execution early Friday. Standing alongside her 33-year-old brother, Vandrick R. Hamlin Jr., she watched as the lethal injection was administered.
"I know if I was the one who was murdered and Cameron was still here, I know my brother would have been front and center and he would witness it as well."
The Hamlins say they know Johnson's death will not bring Cameron back. But they were hoping to feel a sense of closure at the death of the man whose violent act plunged the family into years of chaos.
They're also hoping that lessons they've taken from the tragedy can help prevent other families from suffering such a loss.
"I'd like to talk to all the kids and just hope that they would listen," said the victim's father, Vandrick R. Hamlin Sr. "Think before they go do something wrong, because it's going to affect them for the rest of their lives. If they kill somebody, it's going to affect their lives, their family's lives, the person that they killed, it's going to affect their lives, it's going to affect their friends, it's going to affect a lot of people."
People should take the time to think before they do something; that way, they can grow up to see their children grow and be productive, he said.
"Just do the right thing," he said. "It doesn't cost you a thing to do the right thing."
A family torn apart
The Hamlins had been a happy, tight group who enjoyed weekend cookouts and mentored others in their community. Many jokingly referred to them as the Cosby family for their resemblance to the happy TV family.
On Sept. 24, 2006, their lives changed.
Johnson's ex-girlfriend, Lakeish Truitt, was in Cameron Hamlin's car when Johnson pulled his minivan alongside and rolled down his window, police said. The woman, who has a child with Johnson, rolled down her window, and Johnson started asking about Hamlin.
Truitt told him Hamlin was her cousin, but Johnson continued to ask questions, then drew a handgun. He fired 3 times, striking Hamlin. He died in Christiana Hospital.
Cameron Hamlin's father said he still remembers rushing to his son's body in the Medical Examiner's Office, wanting to close his son's eyes before the rest of the family saw him. He recently learned that they had seen Hamlin's open eyes.
Johnson remained on the lam, stalking Truitt until, about a month later, he shot her as she was getting into a car. She survived.
Johnson was captured the following month. But the prison's walls and bars didn't stop him from from terrorizing. 5 days after his arrest, prosecutors said, Johnson tried to hire an inmate who was about to be released to kill Truitt.
The Hamlins said Johnson mailed photos of the crime scene to their Wilmington home. Vandrick Hamlin Sr., a U.S. Postal Service worker, intercepted the package at work and kept it from being delivered to his home. But he saw the photos and the message that accompanied them: "Pictures are worth a thousand words."
"It just messed me up," he said. "My supervisor took it and just sent me home. I had to come home for a couple of days because it was something that I hoped I'd never see again."
Cameron Hamlin's death devastated his family and large circle of friends, who described him as hard-working, loving and loyal. An aspiring rap musician, he wrote lyrics about living in a world free of violence, jealousy and hatred.
Both of his parents, Cynthia and Vandrick Sr., struggled to move on after his murder, sometimes sinking into depression. The elder Vandrick Hamlin said he lost his mind, and attributes his two heart attacks to Johnson's acts.
"A lot of people, they know our son was killed and know that we are in mourning still," Cynthia Hamlin said. "But we're getting through with faith in God."
They thank their family members and church family for getting them through.
But even during their struggles, the Hamlins didn't sit idle. They wanted some good to come of this and lobbied for a law that made sure violent felons who already were prohibited from possessing a firearm would face tougher penalties for gun-related crimes. Under the legislation, named Cameron's Law, sentences imposed for violating the law could not be suspended or reduced, and prison "good time" would not apply.
The family also helps in the community, taking the time to speak to people or through organizations to which they belong. Both men are members of Star in the East Lodge No. 1, a Masonic organization. Cynthia Hamlin participates in the Order of the Eastern Star.
"We can't change the world," the younger Vandrick Hamlin said. "The only thing we can do is give back to the community. I'm a mentor; my dad mentors."
Moving toward recovery
Even so, the pain remains.
"Hell" is how the elder Vandrick Hamlin describes it. "People think that when you lose a loved one ... they think it's all over in two weeks -- that's when people stop coming around and stop calling and everything. It stops after two weeks, but after that day forward, the grieving continues, and it's just hell.
"Some days you're happy, some days you're sad, some days you just really can't get it together and all because you are constantly thinking about your son. And you can't shake it off."
Johnson's execution would be a step toward recovery, he said.
But Kristin Froehlich, whose brother was murdered in Connecticut in 1995, said the death penalty doesn't resolve any issues the surviving family may have.
Froehlich, who was in Smyrna on Thursday night to protest Johnson's execution, said healing takes time. Focusing on the fate of the person who killed a loved one only postpones the healing.
"I don't want to kill people," she said. "How is that going to help me? It's not going to heal me. I made a decision early on that I wanted to work for a better world. I didn't want to just reactively respond to things."
The senior Vandrick Hamlin said everyone is entitled to their opinion. But for him and his family, Johnson's presence reminded them of murder. His execution was something they felt they needed in order to move forward.
The younger Vandrick Hamlin said Johnson's execution would bring relief.
"I don't want to pay taxes for him sitting in jail the rest of his life," he said. "I work hard every day, and the person who killed my brother -- I'm taking care of him."
This is something he thinks about often, as he thinks about how his parents have suffered.
"As long as I'm living, I probably won't be able to rest because I know how this affected my parents," he said. "They haven't been the same since it happened."
The family said they hold no animosity toward those who opposed Johnson's execution, or for Johnson's family.
Cynthia Hamlin said she feels sympathy for Johnson's mother.
"No mother wants to lose a child," she said. "I feel like his mother is feeling the pain that I felt, but her son, he lived the life to receive what he's getting.
"As a mother, if she's a real mother, I know she's feeling that pain," she said. "She's not my enemy, but I know she's a mother."
Although not entirely certain the death sentence would bring them the closure they desire, they felt it would help resolve many of the anxieties caused by Johnson's existence.
That's why they welcomed his execution.
"So we can have closure in our lives and try to move on," Vandrick Hamlin Sr. said. "I really do want to get back to the way I used to be."
"I want to get back to being a family."
(source: The News Journal)