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Officials review Hampton case

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Kevin Hampton waits in an elevator to go up to Vigo County Circuit court during June 2007's double homicide trial. Times Staff File Photo.
Although the criminal case closed a year ago, white binders containing the details of the investigation into the double homicide of Tanette Nicole Dickison, 18, and her friend Cassie Harris, 48, are on display at the Clay County Prosecutor's Office.

"This is a stellar example of how things work when judicial offices and law enforcement agencies cooperate and work together for a common purpose," Indiana State Police Tony Guinn said. "All the pride, ego and turf war behavior that could have happened went away. We had one goal, to get this guy."

Guinn became involved in the case when Dickison's body was found in a private pond south of Brazil on Nov. 30, 2004.

The first five months of the investigation was spent eliminating suspects. Within 48 hours, Calvin Spillers was a person of interest in the case, but he fell off the radar. He didn't surface again until later, but then detectives knew him as Kevin L. Hampton.

On June 26, 2007, an expressionless Hampton listened quietly as the jury's guilty verdict on both counts of strangling Dickison and Harris to death during the weekend after Thanksgiving in 2004.

"At the prosecutor's table you can't show any emotion, no facial response when they read a verdict, but there were tears in my eyes when they read Hampton's verdict," Terre Haute Police Detective Starla Nieghdy said. "I think Hampton's pure evil. So many people we questioned described him with that word, and I believe it."

Nieghdy became involved with the case when Harris' mother reported her missing Dec. 6, 2004.

"This was a fast investigation, from beginning to end this case took two-and-a half years," Nieghdy said. "That is remarkable considering we had two murder victims in two separate counties, countless man hours from five law enforcement agencies involved in the investigation and thousands of pieces of evidence to process. "

Clay County Prosecutor Lee Reberger worked with Vigo County Prosecutor Terry Modesitt and Chief Deputy Prosecutor Rob Roberts to present the case in Vigo County Circuit Court.

Reberger credits investigators with a successful resolution of the court case, which was difficult at times because of the lifestyles of the people involved.

The investigation led to a "dark and seedy sub-culture" in Terre Haute, where people were leery of strangers and fearful of anything pertaining to law enforcement. Regardless of the choices Dickison and Harris made to become involved in prostitution, investigators believed they didn't deserve to be victimized.

Guinn, who has a teenage daughter, and Nieghdy, who got to know Cassie's mother during the investigation, thought the "best friends who looked out for each other" deserved their best efforts.

"The victim might not be living and you have never met them before, but you become so immersed in their families and what was happening in their lives that you get to know their every move, what they thought, what they hoped and planned for in the future," Nieghdy said. "You know them as if they are a part of your family."

They became so close to the case, Guinn and Nieghdy assisted the Dickison and Harris families in placing tombstones on Tanette and Cassie's graves.

"I gave Tanette's father my word we wouldn't stop till we found his daughter's killer," Guinn said. "This was the only case I worked on for seven months, and it was a real eye opener. Working a case like this changes you, changes how you look at things, the way you do things."

When Hampton was arrested in an unrelated case, pieces began to fall into place in the double homicide and in a cold case investigation into the strangulation murder of Dianna Lehman, 18, in 2000.

Hampton was convicted and sentenced to 85 years for Lehman's murder Wed., Dec. 20, 2006.

"We all got an education in DNA during this case, which had the largest number of specimens ever tested by the ISP," Nieghdy said.

"We got to know the lab technicians on a first-name basis," Guinn added.

"There were countless leads in this case," Reberger said. "Law enforcement could have given up, but they continued to hammer away until they eliminated all potential suspects, all the loose ends. That made the defense's case extremely difficult."

Reberger said the case helped create great working relationships.

"Anyone who was asked to do something in this case bent over backwards to do whatever was needed of them," Reberger said. "This case helped to create very strong relationships between our two counties. Now, if I need anything, I know I can call Tony or Starla. The same goes with the Vigo County Prosecutor's Office."

Officials hope the closure of the case, and the recent denial of Hampton's appeal process with the Indiana Court of Appeals, brings some comfort to the victims' families.

"The only one who knows the exact sequence of events is Kevin Hampton," Nieghdy said. "My dream is that one day he will call and provide details about what really happened, but I don't think that will happen. Hampton was very arrogant, it was all a game to him."

Not book smart, investigators agree that Hampton had street smarts.

"Hampton was so arrogant he thought we'd never find anything or anyone to connect him to the murders," Guinn said. "He'd gotten away with Lehman's murder for so long, he thought he'd do it again. I bet he really regrets not handling the disposal of evidence himself."

The hardest thing for investigators is the "unknowns" of Hampton's past.

"We have no idea what Hampton has done during his criminal past," Nieghdy said. "We have established that he worked at many different places and festivals around the country."

Officials have placed Hampton's DNA in a national database and his "MO" has been issued to other law enforcement agencies. His DNA has matched in connection with two other violent sexual assault cases in California and one in Nevada.

"The greatest testament that could come from this case is young people learn that this can happen here, that things like this do happen here," Nieghdy said. "Tanette and Cassie looked out for each other, it would be a great thing if their deaths could help save someone else, another young person."

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Wow. What a riveting story. How sad for the families involved, no matter WHAT these women were into. Judgements aside, I'm so happy they caught this guy and seem to have merely scratched the surface of his criminal past. Goes to show you that you never really know some people. Total shame this had to happen, but KUDOS to law enforcement and both Clay/Vigo Co Prosecutors offices and all of the people involved in nabbing this perp. Thank you from the bottom of my heart!!

-- Posted by Emmes on Wed, Jun 18, 2008, at 10:42 AM

This case really represents the fact that there are so many sub-cultures within small communities. Even when you don't think "it could happen here" or that there aren't people like that in "this town", there are and we should all learn a lesson in preparing ourselves for the worst no matter where we live.

-- Posted by gingersnap13 on Wed, Jun 18, 2008, at 6:23 PM

What a sad but true statement!

-- Posted by sassypants on Wed, Jun 18, 2008, at 7:10 PM

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