Seated together in two rows of chairs hastily pulled from stacked piles at the back of the room, the family members of murder victim Toni Dickison listened quietly with stoic faces as investigators and attorneys seated around three long tables addressed a throng of reporters Tuesday morning at the Vigo County Sherrif's Department.
The Dickison family had traveled from the Brazil area to Terre Haute, a journey 18-year-old Toni had taken herself several months before her untimely death. The beautiful teenager described as vivacious and talented by former teachers and family members had taken her first steps toward fulfilling a long list of dreams by moving to the city. But her life there ended in murder, her strangled body found in a private pond in Clay County on Nov. 30, 2004.
Tuesday marked the day the Dickisons had been waiting for since Toni was taken from them. Kevin L. Hampton, 43, of Terre Haute, was charged with Toni's murder and those of two other Terre Haute women, Cassie Harris and Dianna Lehman.
Toni's brother Larry was the only member of the family to watch as law enforcement officials, including Clay County Sheriff Mike Heaton, escorted the man prosecutors emphasized is innocent until proven guilty, to the third floor of the Vigo County Courthouse. Inside Superior Court Division 3, the families of the three murdered women waited for Judge David R. Bolk and the beginning of the initial hearing. Toni's relatives, some becoming emotional as the tension in the quiet room became almost tangible, comforted each other on one side of the room while the man accused of her murder sat on the other. While the Dickisons held on to each other for support, Hampton sat in the far corner of a bench, occasionally closing his eyes, also waiting.
As Bolk read the charges to the accused, sheriff's deputies lined the aisle separating the two seating areas, constantly monitoring the group in attendance. If convicted of all charges, which include the felony murders of all three women, as well as rape, a Class B felony, and criminal deviate conduct, a Class B felony, in connection with the death of Lehman, Hampton will face a maximum imprisonment term of 235 years.
A not guilty plea has been entered for Hampton, who said during his initial hearing he wishes to have a speedy trial. Judge Bolk appointed public defender Michael Raider to represent Hampton, who said he would like another attorney to represent him due to a conflict of interests. He will be held without bond, and the next hearing is set for 10 a.m. Thursday morning.
At the conclusion of the hearing, Bolk requested the audience remain seated while police escorted Hampton, clad in an orange jump suit, out of the courtroom. As he walked down the aisle, three sets of the murdered women's survivors seated on either side, some of Toni's relatives looked to the front of the courtroom. But others turned their heads and watched him from the time he stood up until the courtroom door closed behind him.
Larry told The Brazil Times he felt anger, heartache and a lot of hate when he saw Hampton.
"Seeing him brought back all the pain. If he did it, I don't feel any pity for him," he said. "I've never hated anybody. But I don't see why another human would do that to a human being."
While the Dickisons spoke to various reporters following the media conference Tuesday morning, Larry explained after the initial hearing his family was waiting for him. They have been waiting since the end of November to find the person who killed Toni. And they continue to wait for someone to tell them why.