SHIAWASSEE COUNTY — Members of Timothy Kiley’s family say they only want justice for their murdered loved one — but they aren’t certain they will receive it.
Kiley, 23, was “executed” north of Owosso and his body dumped in the Shiawassee River in the early hours of Dec. 3, 1985. Two local men were convicted of the carjacking and murder and sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.
One of the killers, Frank Garcia, following multiple appeals and new trials based on procedural errors, was released from prison after only eight years.
The other killer, Ronald Hammond, now 51, remains in prison because of his first-degree murder conviction. But he’s up for re-sentencing, the result of a U.S. Supreme Court decision, because he was 17 when he killed Kiley.
Hammond’s re-sentencing hearing is set for 8:30 a.m. Friday in the 35th Circuit Court in Corunna. Several Kiley family members plan to attend.
“I didn’t think I’d have to be going through this again,” said 85-year-old Lucille Kiley of Owosso, Timothy Kiley’s mother. “I want (Hammond) to stay in prison. He showed absolutely no remorse. When I saw him in court, he looked like Charlie Manson. His eyes were just dead.”
She added: “I have not been notified that Tim is coming back and being given another chance.”
Timothy Kiley, 23, was, by all accounts, a considerate, hard-working and responsible young man who in his spare time loved to watch sports, fish and play Frisbee. He was living on his own and managing the original Val’s Pizza on South Washington Street in downtown Owosso at the time he was murdered.
“Anybody who knew Tim will tell you there was something special about him,” Lucille Kiley said. “Everybody who knew him liked him. He was a good guy.”
One of Timothy Kiley’s sisters, Shawn Kiley, 61, of Owosso, said she will make a victim impact statement at Friday’s hearing.
The re-sentencing is being handled by the Kent County Prosecutor’s Office because Charles Quick, an assistant prosecutor for Shiawassee County, was Hammond’s original defense attorney.
Miller v. Alabama
In the 2016 Miller v. Alabama decision, the Supreme Court ruled sentencing offenders under age 18 to life without parole violated the Constitution’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment, and ordered re-sentencings in every case. Four local cases were affected.
The Supreme Court found that juvenile offenders are entitled to a so-called “Miller hearing,” in which the lower court evaluates mitigating factors: the offender’s age and immaturity, impetuosity, and the failure to appreciate risks and consequences; their family and home environment; the circumstances of the offense, including the extent of their participation; impact of family and peer pressures; and their ability to engage in the criminal justice process given their youth.
For Hammond’s re-sentencing, Kent County Prosecutor Chris Becker determined a Miller hearing wasn’t necessary because, in his view, the mitigating factors obviously apply, he said. Becker plans to offer Hammond a new sentence of 40 to 60 years, rather than life without parole.
Thirty-fifth Circuit Court Judge Matthew Stewart does not have discretion to reject Becker’s decision and reinstate the original mandatory sentence, Shiawassee Prosecuting Attorney Deana Finnegan said. Stewart can either impose the requested sentence of 40 to 60 years, or reduce it to 25 to 40 years.
A minimum-range sentence could result in Hammond’s immediate release. If Stewart opts instead for 40 to 60 years, Hammond, who has already served 35 years, could be eligible for parole in five years.
“I’m shocked they would even allow this predator a chance out of the gate, to become eligible for parole. This was not an impetuous act,” Shawn Kiley said. “People don’t realize these youthful offenders get more than fair trials and have the home-court advantage.
“I’m tired of all their rights. What about the rights of the victims? It’s got to end,” she said.
Becker said in a phone interview Thursday that Kent County has already dealt with 24 youthful offender re-sentencings. That experience tells him, he said, Hammond doesn’t meet the criteria to reinstate life without parole.
Among other reasons, Becker said, it was Hammond’s first criminal offense and he is studying divinity through Calvin College while in prison.
“He has been a model prisoner for the past 10 years,” Becker said, adding there was “some misconduct” in prison early on. “The crime was extreme and horrible, but he did not lay out some grandiose scheme.”
Members of the Kiley family adamantly disagree with Becker’s conclusions, saying Hammond planned the murder and knew exactly what he was doing. Shawn Kiley said the prosecutors in Shiawassee County have always stood behind her family, while Becker has failed to show them any compassion at all.
“It was a rude awakening,” Kiley said. “No one has ever told us they were not going to fight for my brother — until him.”
“I wish (Becker) had really studied the records and had not made up his mind like it was a generic thing,” Lucille Kiley said. “If (Hammond) gets out, I hope he decides to stay in the community where (Becker) lives.”
Becker said he feels the family’s pain and personally doesn’t agree with the Miller decision, but he is bound by the law. He said even if his prosecutor’s office prevailed in a Miller hearing, the decision would be reversed on appeal.
Juvenile lifers in Michigan
In Michigan, as of July 31, 2019, there were 363 juvenile lifers, including the four from Shiawassee County. About 86 have had their sentences reduced to a term of years, and 47 immediately became eligible for parole.
Twenty-two have been released. One is Mark Steven Dawson from Owosso, who murdered a gas station attendant during a robbery in Caledonia Township on Dec. 1, 1976, 74 days before his 18th birthday. He was freed June 6, 2018, after serving 41 years in prison.
In more than 200 of the juvenile lifer cases, prosecutors are seeking life without parole again, including in the Daniel Wheeler case from Shiawassee County. Wheeler, now 67, killed his ex-girlfriend, Erlinda Paz, in Hazelton Township Jan. 30, 1970, when he was 17 — after Paz told him she was pregnant with his child.
Wheeler was sentenced to life without parole in 1971. He went through a Miller hearing in December in 35th Circuit Court, and is awaiting the court’s decision on his re-sentencing. Stewart requested more information from the parties before making a decision.
The re-sentencing of area man John Espie has not yet taken place. Espie was 16 when he killed juvenile transport officer Nathan Nover, who was driving him from a psychiatric evaluation in Lansing to a juvenile facility in Bay City on Nov. 25, 1998. His case is being handled by the state attorney general’s office, so Shiawassee County will not be involved in his re-sentencing proceedings.
“The re-sentencings are a never-ending battle for the victim’s families,” Shawn Kiley said. “We’re lucky we only have four in Shiawassee County.”
The murder of Timothy Kiley
According to multiple trial witnesses, Hammond told people in advance of the crime that he planned to kill somebody — anybody — steal their car and go to Flint. He had previously stolen two guns from relatives in Florida. Garcia readily agreed to help Hammond with his plan.
Kiley had taken a Monday off work to watch football on TV, but around midnight the manager decided to drive over to Val’s Pizza and check that everything was OK. He was stopped at a stop sign on Washington Street when a man suddenly jumped in front of his Oldsmobile. A second man climbed into Kiley’s car, and was joined by the first.
Hammond and Garcia forced Kiley to drive north of town, park and exit the vehicle. Garcia told Kiley to get into the trunk or he’d blow his head off. Kiley begged for his life, offering them anything he had. Without warning, Hammond shot Kiley point-blank.
The killers stowed Kiley’s body in the trunk and later placed it in the river. They went joyriding in the stolen car and purchased candy with the $12 they had taken from their victim. They bragged to others that they had “blown a guy away.”
When Kiley didn’t show up for work the next day, Lucille Kiley immediately knew something was wrong and called the police. Her son’s body was discovered in the river by a passerby the next day, Wednesday. Hammond and Garcia were arrested two days later, after someone who had seen the pair in Kiley’s car came forward.
Lucille and Shawn Kiley described their loved one’s standing-room-only funeral and their amazement at the number of people they’d never met before, including customers of Val’s Pizza, who expressed grief for a young man they had cared about and held in high regard.
“You couldn’t find anyone who had a bad word to say about him,” Shawn Kiley said.
By contrast, the Kileys recalled the disturbing picture Hammond’s teachers painted of their former student during his trial. His kindergarten teacher said she was afraid of him. His fourth-grade teacher testified Hammond had killed small animals kept in the classroom, and she’d predicted he would kill a human being one day.
“Ronald Hammond was 205 days shy of his 18th birthday when he murdered my brother,” Shawn Kiley said. “He knew what he was doing. This was not a young boy’s adventure gone awry.”
Hammond and Garcia were convicted in 1986 of first-degree murder and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony, though Garcia’s sentence later was overturned.
In 1988, Hammond pleaded guilty to assaulting an employee or escape, and was sentenced to one to four years in prison to run concurrently. He’s being held in the Richard Handlon Correctional Facility in Ionia.
Life after death
Timothy Kiley’s murder has caused his family the kind of pain that never really goes away.
Early on, there was disbelief: His murder was something that happened to other families, not theirs. It changed the way they looked at the world, making them more cynical and less trustful.
“When a human being decides to take another life, it does something to you,” Lucille Kiley said. “Our whole family has suffered.”
On the advice of lawyers, the Kileys filed a couple of civil lawsuits over the years, but the cases didn’t go far. The killers had no money, and the school district, which in the Kileys’ view failed to react appropriately to Hammond’s concerning behavior, successfully claimed governmental immunity from litigation.
Timothy Kiley’s five brothers and sisters have dealt with grief and anger in their own way. Shawn Kiley said one of her brothers, David Kiley, who was very close to Timothy, acted in a more reckless manner after the murder. The brother was killed in a car crash in 1991.
Garcia’s release from prison in 1995 was another blow. Now, the family faces the prospect Hammond will be set free in a few years.
“I can’t even let myself think about him getting out,” Shawn Kiley said.
“We’re working hard to keep Hammond where he should be,” Lucille Kiley said. “I don’t want another family to go through this.”