Trial Over Officer’s Death in Chase Ends Without Verdict

By: Tim Bryant, of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch
(reprinted from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), September 4, 2004)

The judge declared a mistrial in the murder case against the driver of a stolen car after jurors could not agree. A judge declared a mistrial Friday after a deeply divided jury was unable to decide whether the driver of a fleeing stolen car is guilty of murder in the death of a pursuing St. Louis police officer.

Jurors deliberated about 10 hours over two days without reaching a verdict on the second-degree murder charge against Deon Hampton in the crash that killed Officer Michael Barwick.

Barwick, 27, died the night of Aug. 29, 2002, after his speeding patrol car collided with a van at 25th Street and St. Louis Avenue. Barwick had been driving north on 25th in pursuit of a stolen Chrysler Sebring driven by Hampton.

A date for Hampton’s retrial has not been set. He remained in custody.

The jury of 11 women and one man found Hampton guilty of a lesser crime of resisting a stop, a charge that relates to police chases. Jurors recommended a three-year prison sentence and a fine to be determined by Circuit Judge Timothy J. Wilson. The maximum fine is $5,000. Wilson set Hampton’s sentencing for Oct. 29.

Taking into account the possibility of parole, Hampton, 20, is unlikely to serve prison time for resisting. He already has been jailed for two years to await trial in the murder case and will get credit for that time when he is sentenced next month.

He also is awaiting trial on charges on first-degree robbery and armed criminal action in what authorities said was an unrelated carjacking Aug. 12, 2002.

Defense attorney John Rogers said Hampton and his family were “quite pleased” with the trial’s outcome Friday.

“At this point in time, we need to regroup and get ready to try the case again,” Rogers said.

A juror who declined to give her name said hours of contentious deliberation led to a hopeless deadlock on the murder charge. She said jurors were split 7-5 but would not say whether they leaned toward guilt or acquittal. She added that jurors were frustrated by the absence of a complete verdict after a five-day trial.

“None of us wanted to put either family through all this again,” she said.

Assistant Circuit Attorney Robert Craddick had told jurors that Barwick died “for one reason and one reason alone — and that reason is on the shoulders of Deon Hampton.”

Hampton chose to get into the stolen 2002 Sebring and flee from police, Craddick said. Under state law, Hampton is guilty by traveling in the stolen car and getting into the police chase that led to Barwick’s death, the prosecutor said.

Rogers had countered that Barwick produced his own death by chasing Hampton at speeds exceeding 80 mph with his police car’s siren and emergency lights off, while not wearing a seat belt.

Data retrieved from the car’s air bag showed that Barwick hit the brakes but was still traveling 82 mph one second before it collided with the van, a police accident reconstruction expert testified this week. Otis Brooks, 60, a hospital custodian driving home from work in the van, suffered a severe cut on his jaw and is suing police over the crash.

An autopsy showed that Barwick suffered multiple injuries in the crash and died of a head injury. His passenger, Officer Jenna Christian, suffered internal injuries and a shattered left forearm.

Hampton, passenger Stepphion Sutton and four juveniles were in the stolen car the officers pursued. Sutton has pleaded guilty of second-degree murder in Barwick’s death and is serving an 18-year prison term.

Hampton did not testify this week, and Rogers presented no witnesses or evidence.

Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce told reporters later Friday that car thieves “create a grave, grave danger” when they speed through the streets. Car theft suspects whose driving leads to a death will be charged with murder, she emphasized.