Victim's family distraught after man linked to 1995 Columbus murder set free

Victim's family distraught after man linked to 1995 Columbus murder set free

COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) - New developments in a murder case from more than 20 years ago are reopening old wounds for the family of John Hamilton, a Columbus Brinks driver who was gunned down.

One of three men charged with the crime facing a life sentence was released from prison without the Hamilton family knowing about it.

"It's just like reliving it all over again," said Hamilton's daughter Dotty Chaney.

It all happened on Dec. 21, 1995.

"He was not supposed to work that day, he wasn't supposed to be the one in the back, he was supposed to be the driver, and when it flashed on the news and stuff, we figured it was somebody else," said Hamilton's wife and daughters.

However, it tragically was John Hamilton - a father, husband, and Army veteran of 22 years.

"He was in Vietnam. If he had died there, it would have been for a reason, but this was because somebody was too lazy to work for a living," said Margaret Hamilton.

On that crisp morning, Leon Tollette, 26 at the time, shot and killed Hamilton in a robbery attempt as Hamilton delivered money to a SunTrust Bank in Uptown Columbus.

A Columbus jury sentenced Tollette to death following his confession and trial, and while justice was swiftly served to the man who pulled the trigger, Tollette didn't act alone.

Xavier Womack was sentenced to life in prison for his involvement- acting as a back-up shooter during the crime.

As for the third suspect, Jakeith Robinson, what happened in his two trials has now resurfaced 20 years later, digging up what the Hamilton family laid to rest.

"I don't understand the justice system at all, how could this have happened," asked Chaney this week as the news of Robinson's release sunk in.

Robinson was found not guilty of murder in the 1990s, but a mistrial was declared for the other two charges he faced- armed robbery and carrying a fire arm during the commission of a crime.

The Columbus District Attorney's office would continue with a second trial where Robinson would be found guilty of those charges for which a jury couldn't previously reach a decision on.

Robinson has since been serving his life sentence - that is until the Georgia Court of Appeals reversed the judgment this past November.

The Georgia Court of Appeals says Robinson should have been a free man after a jury found him not guilty of murder, and that the Columbus District Attorney's office shouldn't have held a second trial.

While it's a hard pill for the Hamilton family to swallow, they say it was all made worse when they weren't notified of Robinson's release.

"The DA's office did meet with us, met with our whole family and they apologized, over and over again," said Wendy Reese, another one of Hamilton's daughters.

Despite apologies, even "sorrys" won't bring a beloved husband of 32 years back. "These people just took that away from me," said Margaret.

While Margaret Hamilton has fought breast cancer in recent years, she can't fight back the tears that still come. "A day doesn't go by that I don't think of him," she said.

Thought's of "what ifs" that haunt them all. "You're angry... cause our life would be so different if this did not happen 20 years different."

Tollette is still on death row despite filing recent appeals, and Womack is serving a life sentence for armed robbery. WTVM spoke with Richard Hagler, Robinson's attorney from the 90's who tells us he hasn't spoke to Robinson in years and didn't advise him during this judgment overturn.

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