ELYRIA — Jury deliberations began Monday morning in the murder trial of a North Ridgeville man accused of shooting his girlfriend following an argument about cleaning their house.
The discussions will continue today as the jury considers whether or not to find Randy Hamilton guilty of two counts of murder and one count of felonious assault, having weapons under disability and receiving stolen property following the shooting death of Michelle Ryals on Oct. 25, 2016.
Hamilton, 51, called 911 that evening and said he had just shot his “old lady” and when police arrived to the couples’ Avon Belden Road home, they found Ryals, 45, in a bedroom with a single gunshot wound to the chest.
She was pronounced dead at the scene, and the 12-gauge shotgun used to kill her was found a few feet from Hamilton in the couple’s garage, where he was waiting for officers and was removed from the scene without incident.
Defense attorney Kenneth Lieux said Hamilton is guilty of both the having weapons under disability charge as well as the receiving stolen property charge because Hamilton admitted to being in possession of the shotgun that was used to kill Ryals.
Since Hamilton previously was found guilty of felony charges, he legally wasn’t allowed to have the gun and since it was technically property of Lorain County, which he took during his time doing maintenance at the Lorain County Airport, he stole it.
“Those counts aren’t in dispute,” Lieux said in his closing arguments. “Randy is guilty of those counts. A lot of this comes down to the mental element.”
Lieux said for Hamilton to be found guilty of the murder charges, he needed to be acting both purposefully and knowingly when he shot Ryals. But since Hamilton said the gun went off when he was taking it from her and trying to uncock it, he wasn’t in that mental state.
Lieux asked the jury to downgrade those charges to either reckless homicide or involuntary manslaughter, and for the felonious assault charge to be downgraded to assault as the prosecution was not able to provide a reason that Hamilton would want Ryals dead.
“Their theory is Randy was upset over some texts, and he barged in there and gunned her down,” he said. “What evidence did the state produce that supported that theory? They were drinking, she died of a gunshot and it was in his hand when it went off. They haven’t proven his specific intent. Was it to kill her or take the gun from her and uncock it?”
Lieux said Ryals spoke with her ex-husband three or four times a week, something Hamilton must have known about, and killing someone over text messages “doesn’t make any sense.”
The prosecution said Hamilton was jealous of Ryals’ friendship and ongoing texting communication with her ex-husband, which came to a head Oct. 25, 2016, when, after the couple hosted a get together with friends, the couple drunkenly fought over who had to clean the house.
“The defendant’s story makes no sense,” Assistant County Prosecutor Tony Cillo said in his closing arguments. “In the 911 call we didn’t hear him say he didn’t intentionally shoot his old lady or ‘I shot my old lady when I was uncocking the gun and it went off accidentally.’ He repeatedly says he shot his wife, but he doesn’t correct them and say it wasn’t on purpose.”
Cillo said the texts clearly upset Hamilton because even after Ryals died he kept talking about them, including in letters to his daughter from jail.
“He wouldn’t stop talking about it. He knew what he did. He was resigned,” Cillo said, noting Hamilton didn’t try to administer aid to Ryals after calling 911 and instead went looking for cigarettes. “He was more concerned about his cigarettes. He changed his story to fit a new narrative. He shot her in cold blood.”
Assistant County Prosecutor Greg Peltz said Ryals locked herself in her bedroom to try and get away from Hamilton and even attempted to move a dresser in front of the door, which Hamilton later broke open.
“Randy Hamilton busted down that door,” he said. “He put the full force of his body and his shoulder into that door. We have that physical evidence. We also have the 911 call where he says ‘I shot my old lady’ and then didn’t render any physical aid to Michelle.”
Peltz said the case began and ended with the 911 call where Hamilton admits to shooting Ryals.
“That’s where this case starts,” he said. “It’s where the evidence starts and the case and the evidence expand from there. The defendant purposefully caused the death of Michelle Ryals. You cannot read his mind, but you can infer from all the surrounding facts and circumstances to know what he was thinking.”
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