Cherokee County, GA — Joe Hamlin is convinced that the man who has spent more than a decade behind bars for the murder of his teenage daughter is innocent, and he’s running out of time to prove it.
Katie Hamlin was 15 when she was killed in July of 2002. Her nude, partially burned body was found two days later along Kemp Road in Acworth near Kellogg Creek.
In the days and weeks that followed, detectives interviewed many of Katie’s acquaintances, including 17-year-old Jamerson Mangrum. At first, Mangrum denied he’d seen Katie the night she went missing. But when an autopsy found his DNA on her body, he changed his story, saying they’d had consensual sex.
In 2005, Mangrum went on trial for murder. In a rare move for a murder trial, the defendant took the stand. He told the jury a version of events he had never told before, pointing fingers at other young men who hung out with Katie that evening.
Jurors didn’t buy Mangrum’s newest story. They found him guilty of murder, rape and other crimes. The judge sentenced him life in prison plus 80 years.
“She was my little girl,” said Joe Hamlin. “I miss her a lot.”
A few months ago, Hamlin learned some new information in his daughter’s murder case that now makes him believe the wrong guy is behind bars. He doesn’t have long to prove it. He’s battling stage four cancer, and the outlook isn’t good. Cancer is in his colon, lungs and liver.
“Typically, a stage-four cancer patient only lives five years,” Hamlin said. “I will reach that point in October.”
Recently, Hamlin learned that one of his distant relatives was married to one of Mangrum’s relatives. To try to prove his innocence, Mangrum’s mother gave Hamlin all the “discovery material” in her son’s case.
After reviewing the material, Hamlin wrote a letter to Jamerson Mangrum in prison, seeking answers about whether Mangrum was really the killer.
“I sent him a list of about 19 questions and built in some control questions that I knew the answers to,” Hamlin said. “He answered every one of them honestly.”
Mangrum’s 16-page reply was the same story he told the jury, but with more details.
Hamlin and Mangrum have exchanged many letters in the last few months. Hamlin is now convinced that Mangrum’s is innocent and that the real killers are two other men who were questioned but never charged.
Hamlin points to hand-written notes by investigators and phone records that suggest Mangrum was not at the scene when Katie was killed.
“Jamerson was at home,” said Hamlin. “This is verified by phone records which I have copies of.”
As Joe Hamlin races against time to find more evidence, he doesn’t want pity. The fact is, he’s not a sympathetic figure, and he knows it. He missed his the trial of his own daughter’s murder because he was in prison.
Mangrum told CBS46 News that the months following his daughter’s murder were a dark time in his life.
“For about 18 months, I got into heavy drinking,” he said. “I had a bad cocaine habit. I just gave up.”
He fondled his friend’s 12-year-old son, he said. Authorities later found hundreds of images of child pornography on his computers. He spent nine years in prison.
“It was a stupid mistake, one I regret to this day,” Hamlin said. “I’ve been in prison. It’s not pleasant. It is stressful. If he didn’t do it, I don’t want him sitting there.”
When asked whether there’s a possibility that Mangrum is playing him for a fool, Hamlin said, “I always keep that in the back of my mind. He knows up front that if I think he had anything to do with Katie’s death, he’s going to stay in prison.”
Hamlin recently met with prosecutors in Cherokee County. They declined to reopen the case.
“They don’t want that black mark on their record that they convicted the wrong man,” Hamlin said.
Hamlin said finding the real killer is the one thing he wants to do before he dies.
“I have to have the closure,” he said. “I want to know the truth. I think Jamerson has told me the truth. I’ve just got to get people to listen.”
Hamlin’s ex-wife, Donna Hamlin Tubbs, told CBS46 News that she is disgusted by her ex-husband’s efforts. She said she has no doubt that her daughter’s killer is behind bars.
“It’s very sad that he would betray his own daughter and defend Jamerson Mangrum who is a convicted murderer,” said Tubbs. “He (Mangrum) had his day in court.”
Rachelle Carnesale, chief assistant district attorney for the Blue Ridge Judicial Circuit released the following statement:
“Recently, members of our staff and I spoke with Mr. Hamlin regarding what he alleges to be newly discovered evidence exculpating Jamerson Mangrum and implicating two other individuals in the murder of Katie Hamlin. Unfortunately, at the time of this case, Mr. Hamlin was incarcerated, thus he did not observe the weight of the evidence against Jamerson Mangrum whose DNA was found in multiple orifices of Katie Hamlin’s body. It is no coincidence that only those same areas of Katie’s body were burned before her body was dumped like garbage.
“Mr. Hamlin learned recently that he was related to Jamerson Mangrum and the two struck up a friendship of sorts by mail. All of the information provided to us by Mr. Hamlin was attributed to Mr. Mangrum. No information provided by Mr. Hamlin rose to the level of relevant evidence and certainly not evidence that would exculpate Mr. Mangrum. Further, the two individuals who are the focus of Mr. Hamlin’s interest were previously investigated by law enforcement. There was no information on which to charge these individuals as accomplices at the time. We stand by the overwhelming evidence that was used to convict Mr. Mangrum and to uphold that conviction on appeal. In the event that actual evidence against any co-conspirators of Mr. Mangrum in this horrific crime ever comes to light, we would be interested to hear of such and will forward that information to law enforcement.”