Thursday, November 26, 2009

Jennifer Hampton: Murdered by Illegal Immigrant

The following account is taken from columns that appeared in Shoalanda Speaks November 20-25, 2009.

The young Guatemalan had walked for miles. He was determined to make it to the United States for a better life. As he walked, he thought of all he would need when he arrived in his new home--a companion came to mind, one who spoke Spanish. By now he was in Mexico, having hitched enough rides to make good time in his trek. He stopped in a village filled with the poorest of the poor, a village where some families lived in cardboard shacks.

When the young man left the village, he resumed his trip north with a 14 year-old girl for whom he had paid the equivalent of $20.00. This terrified child was to be his companion for the next five years as he made his way to Athens, Alabama, and began work in the Sweet Sue plant.

His "bride" was not allowed out of the house or allowed to learn any English with the exception of what she gleaned from television. She attempted to escape, but the birth of her first child chained her to her captor. It was during her second pregnancy that the neighbors on the quiet Athens street heard her screams from the latest beating and called the police. The Guatemalan quickly headed south, ostensibly returning to his homeland. The girl was now 19, heavily pregnant, and forced to live off the charity of a Hispanic family in Decatur.

When she delivered her second child, she arrived at the hospital in so late a stage of labor that the physician would not give her any pain medication. Holding the hand of a student nurse who stood next to her while communicating in Latin and praying for the young woman and her child, the girl gave birth to a second son. Now she had two anchor children, no education, and no money. What became of this young woman and her children? We don't know...

The above story is true and is related here to present two very different sides of immigration. Are we against all Hispanic Indian immigration? No. Do we see the problems illegal immigration brings? Yes.

Valentino Miranda is a man very much like the one in this story. Last year he killed a young Florence woman who was visiting Knoxville, Tennessee, on business. Now his attorney says he didn't understand his aptly named Miranda rights when he was questioned in the death of Jennifer Hampton. Will this stop his trial? No. It probably won't even slow down the judicial process that will bring a sure punishment to this brutal rapist and murderer. What punishment does Valentino Miranda deserve? Our individual answers to that question say a great deal about us.

Jennifer Lee Hampton was 21 years old when she died, scores of miles from her high school friends in Waterloo and the various homes in which she had lived during her short life. According to officials at Waterloo High School, Jennifer lived with a sister while attending school. Her mother was barely in the picture, and no one knew if a father even existed.

If these things discouraged Jennifer, she tried not to show it. While at Waterloo High she was voted Homecoming Queen her senior year and acclaimed the most dependable. If one looks at photographs of Jennifer, one may not see the type of girl that is normally elected homecoming queen. She wore no fancy frock or lashings of make-up. Jennifer won the title because of what she was on the inside.

Neither was Jennifer rich; she had little or no money for college and was unsure of what she wanted to do with her life. After working in restaurants for a little over a year, Jennifer announced she wanted to be a nurse. Accepted at a local nursing school, Jennifer continued to work for what she wanted. Living in an apartment in Muscle Shoals, she worked as a server at Mama Blues Restaurant in Florence. Jennifer was so proficient in her job that owner Steve Barnhill chose her to be on the team that trained new employees in other towns.

Friends say Jennifer loved the opportunity to travel and was eager to train workers at a new Mama Blues in Knoxville. It was in Knoxville that she encountered illegal immigrant Valentino Miranda, the man who brutally raped and murdered her.

Valentino Vasquez Miranda had migrated to the United States illegally and, like the Guatemalan immigrant in the above tale, was living with a common-law wife over whom he exerted total control. Miranda and Rosa Rodriguez Hernandez shared a room at the Days Inn on South Lovell Road in Knoxville, the motel at which the Florence Mama Blues' employees were housed during their stay. When Jennifer Lee Hampton entered Room 148 on the night of September 19, 2008, she had no idea it was to become her death chamber.

Nick Patel, m
anager of the Days Inn, had hired the 19 year-old Miranda and 38 year-old Rogelio Dominguez Melchor to do maintenance work at the motel. Both immigrants presented illegal social security cards--a fact that Patel vehemently hangs on to in his assertion of total lack of responsibility in the crime. Both Miranda and Melchor possessed key cards allowing them entrance into the guests' rooms. As recently as the week before, a female patron had complained of Valentino Miranda entering her room in the middle of the night, but management refused to respond to her charges.

Sometime after 3:00 a.m. on the morning of September 20th, Miranda entered Jennifer's room with the intention of raping her. Miranda is the only living person who knows what happened next, but forensic pathologists have stated that the former Waterloo homecoming queen put up a prolonged fight. When a shaken fisherman found her nude body seven days later in Melton Hill Lake, Jennifer was missing a tooth, showed marked defensive wounds, and signs of sexual attack and strangulation.

Now, with a body in their possession, the Knoxville authorities arrested Miranda, charging him with First Degree Murder. Hernandez had willingly handed over the bloody clothes Valentino Miranda had worn that night, and semen from the sexual assault kit matched Miranda. The Knox County District Attorney announced that it would, in effect, be a slam dunk case.

After medical examiners identified the body found in the lake as that of Jennifer Lee Hampton, her family in Lauderdale County began to make funeral arrangements. At first, family members were concerned over a lack of funds, but individuals who had never met Jennifer stepped in and took over.

Police departments between Knox County, Tennessee, and Lauderdale County, Alabama, escorted the former homecoming queen's body to the Morrison Funeral Home in the Central Community. KK Edgil-Hargett who works with rape victims and their families assisted the Hampton family in getting a reduced rate from the funeral home. Even as Shoals residents came forward to aid the family locally, stunned residents of Knoxville had begun their own efforts to collect funds for Jennifer's family.

After Jennifer was laid to rest in a private ceremony on October 2, 2008, it had become clear that the initial expenses had been more than taken care of by the generous outpourings of those who had never met Jennifer during her short life; but others, still in shock at the brutal murder, wanted to contribute.

Two female Lauderdale deputies initiated a nursing scholarship at Northwest Shoals Community College in Jennifer's honor. Bette Terry, a Registered Nurse who also works with rape victims, had already begun a fund in Jennifer's memory. Tina Parker, current candidate for Colbert County District Judge, assisted with the collection of funds and suggested memorializing Jennifer in the next Safeplace fundraiser. When it became apparent that the minimum funding to enter the Safeplace walk would fall short, an anonymous Florence businessman contributed the difference. Jeff Miller designed the tee-shirts, and on April 4, 2009, a team honoring Jennifer Hampton participated in the annual Safeplace Walk-a-Mile-for-a-Child.

Jennifer Lee Hampton now lives on in the memories of those who knew and loved her. We hope those who have contributed in her memory to scholarships and the eradication of violence toward women know that they also have ensured Jennifer's memory will influence future generations of young women. Yet, Jennifer's story is not finished.

Yes, Valentino Vasquez Miranda brutally beat, raped, and murdered Jennifer Lee Hampton. He then disposed of her body in a nearby lake where it remained for seven days. His skin and semen were found on Jennifer's body, and his victim's blood was found on the clothes Miranda wore the night of her murder. Rosa Hernandez, Miranda's common-law wife, saved the clothes her husband wore that night, clothes with Jennifer's blood on them. Now Miranda's defense attorney says his client has been illegally detained for the past 14 months. Why? Valentino Miranda did not understand his Miranda rights when they were read to him.

Joe Fanduzz, Miranda's court appointed attorney states that his client understands little or no English and may not have comprehended the fact that he did not have to answer the questions posed him by Knoxville, Tennessee, detectives. Did the Knoxville police not provide an interpreter for the suspect?

It seems the Knoxville Police Department did indeed provide Miranda with an interpreter, but the individual used was not certified by the correct authorities, whoever they may be. Does that mean the interpreter did not adequately inform Miranda of his rights--rights guaranteed by the United State Constitution? No, it seems that point is not really in question. While Miranda did not sign a release (apparently he cannot write his name), he did nod in agreement and acceptance. Fanduzz's argument is simply the lack of official status of the interpreter. A Knox County judge is set to rule on the defense motion on December 15th. Miranda's trial is still scheduled to begin January 11, 2010, at which time Fanduzz and his step-father John Eldridge will attempt to defend Miranda.

We say attempt to defend, because there can be no defense for what Miranda did. Does he deserve the death penalty? In most cases, we oppose the death penalty for a variety of reasons. In this case, we have no doubt of Miranda's guilt and feel that he, unlike most of us, would actually enjoy a better life in prison than he would in the free world. Pray for justice for Jennifer Lee Hampton.