By Ed Runyan
The jurors who convicted Nasser Hamad on Oct. 30 of two counts of aggravated murder and six counts of attempted aggravated murder will return at 9 a.m. today to hear another set of closing arguments and begin to deliberate on his punishment.
The mitigation phase of the trial started Monday with a dispute between Hamad and two of his attorneys, included testimony from a psychologist about Hamad’s suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and ended with testimony from his family members.
The hearing didn’t include any additional testimony from Hamad, 48, of Howland, who testified for two hours Oct. 27 at the end of the guilt/innocence phase of the trial before the jury found him guilty on all counts.
Eleven witnesses testified on Hamad’s behalf. The mitigation phase also is known as the punishment phase. Jurors went home after the end of the testimony.
Hamad killed Joshua Haber, 19, and Joshua Williams, 20, and injured April Trent-Vokes, 42, Bryce Hendrickson, 20, and John Shively, 17, when Hamad opened fire on them Feb. 25 as they returned to their minivan in front of Hamad’s home on state Route 46 in Howland.
After Hamad emptied his gun, he returned to his house, got more ammunition, returned to the van and fired more shots – about 18 altogether.
The shootings followed a confrontation involving Trent-Vokes and her son, Shively, near Hamad’s house. Trent-Vokes and Shively said they and the three other males went to Hamad’s house to confront Hamad regarding vulgar and threatening Facebook taunts between Hamad and two of the males earlier that day.
Sometime today, the jury will be asked to decide whether prosecutors proved beyond a reasonable doubt the aggravating circumstances of Hamad’s intentionally killing two people or attempting to kill two or more people outweigh the mitigating factors presented Monday.
The jury can choose the death sentence, life in prison without parole, or life in prison with parole eligibility after 25 or 30 years.
If the jury chooses the death penalty, Judge Ronald Rice can affirm that penalty or choose one of the life options if he deems the aggravating circumstances did not outweigh the mitigating factors.
Dr. James Reardon of Columbus, a psychologist being paid $12,000 to evaluate Hamad in the Trumbull County jail last spring and provide expert testimony, told jurors he diagnosed Hamad with post-traumatic stress disorder that afflicted Hamad the day of the shootings.
Reardon, who has diagnosed PTSD in a number of military veterans in recent decades, said months of fighting with Bryce Hendrickson, Bryce’s father and brother over Bryce’s mother moving in with Hamad laid the groundwork for the disorder. The “worst-case situation” of being attacked at his home Feb. 25 led to PTSD, Reardon said.
“Your worst fear just pulled into your driveway,” Reardon said of Trent-Vokes and Shively coming up to his house, and Trent-Vokes yelling at Hamd about Hamad’s Facebook posts.
After Hamad tackled Shively to the ground, the three other males left the minivan by the road and assaulted Hamad.
Reardon said the assault triggered PTSD and a “dissociative event,” meaning Hamad operated in a “kind of floating, guided state” after he got up from being assaulted.
Reardon said Hamad described to him having “come to” at the point where a police officer had Hamad put down his weapon, and Hamad was arrested.
Reardon said evidence to support this diagnosis was Hamad said he didn’t feel any pain during the fight and shootings, despite having a broken wrist, but once he “came to,” he felt “like he weighed 500 pounds.”
About 10 minutes before opening statements of the attorneys were to have begun, defense attorney Robert Dixon informed Judge Rice that Hamad had stopped communicating with him and defense attorney David Doughten. Hamad did meet once with defense attorney Geoff Oglesby recently.
Hamad then spoke with Judge Rice for more than 20 minutes about the poor job he said his attorneys had done in the first phase of the trial and other issues. Hamad said his attorneys’ fees exceeded $100,000.
But Judge Rice told Hamad this would be a bad time to fire his attorneys. He said these issues are properly addressed in an appeal.
After Judge Rice urged a private meeting between Hamad and his attorneys, Hamad returned to tell the judge he would resume the trial as scheduled.
In addition to Reardon, Hamad’s attorneys called Charles Richardson II, a longtime property management and construction manager with Covelli Properties of Warren, who also lived near Hamad when Hamad was growing up on Warwick Road in Howland.
Richardson said starting when Hamad was about 20, he hired Hamad to do excavating and construction jobs for Covelli.
Richardson said Hamad didn’t seem to have trouble working for demanding clients and “never had a problem” with them.
Hamad’s sister, Helen Abraham of Cleveland; daughter, Nadia Hamad; son, Eimand Hamad; and ex-wife, Zobaydah Shpeb, all testified about Hamad’s being a dedicated single father to his three children from the time he and his wife divorced when the children were small.
“He’s a wonderful dad. He protects them with all of his might,” Shpeb said. “He’s a wonderful man.”
“I was in and out of the hospital a lot, and my dad was always there,” Nadia said.
“He’s a very generous man,” Eimad testified.