19-year-old gets 6-year prison sentence in fatal 1998 shooting he calls accident; Tearful teen apologizes for death of friend


It was his house, his girlfriend who got the alcohol. The shotgun was his 2-day-old toy, and he was the one who, drunk and high, pumped a bullet into a friend's forehead. Within hours, he dumped the body in nearby woods, lied to the youth's mother, and cleaned the blood-splattered Odenton home so thoroughly that he recarpeted and patched the wall.

That was Anne Arundel County Circuit Judge Philip T. Caroom's assessment yesterday of Jason K. Hamel, 19. When Hamel tearfully apologized for the first time moments before sentencing, Caroom said, "He, in court today, cries perhaps as much for himself as for his friend."

The judge sentenced Hamel to six years in prison for the March 8, 1998, fatal shooting of Billy Joe Ace, 18, of Edgemere, at the townhouse in the 500 block of Realm Court that Hamel shared with a 25-year-old girlfriend.

Caroom said he might reconsider the sentence in a year if Hamel was not accepted into Patuxent Institution's program designed to rehabilitate young offenders.

Charged with second-degree murder, Hamel pleaded guilty during the summer to involuntary manslaughter in a slaying police said was the result of horseplay with the loaded shotgun among himself and two friends. In the plea agreement, Hamel did not take responsibility but admitted the state had evidence to convict him, and prosecutors agreed to limit their sentence request to six years' incarceration.

"I am truly sorry for what happened," Hamel said. "We were all out of control; we were drunk and all."

What he wanted, he said, was to "start my life over."

"I think the judge saw right through him," said Anne Colt Leitess, assistant state's attorney. She had sought the maximum 10-year sentence with four years suspended, telling Caroom that the crime showed such heartlessness that, "I don't know if he can ever be rehabilitated, and the state doesn't care."

The victim's mother, Jessica Ace, agreed. Though she said she felt sorry for Hamel's relatives as they watched him led away in handcuffs, she doubted Hamel's sincerity in apologizing to her and her husband.

"I don't believe that at all. That was just for the judge, not for us," she said outside the courtroom.

Kenneth W. Ravenell, Hamel's lawyer, said Hamel was a troubled child who was charged twice as a juvenile with drug violations; both cases were dismissed. He sought to have Hamel continue the home detention he has served for 10 months, or serve a sentence in the county jail that would allow Hamel to participate in a work-release program.

Hamel has been working for a contractor for less than a week -- a job his grandfather helped him obtain -- and Hamel's brother said he could get him an apprenticeship to learn to become a heavy equipment operator.

"He was not the only one who did something foolish," Ravenell said, recounting that Hamel, Ace and Ace's close friend Kevin Brown, 17, had far too much to drink and smoke and were playing with a gun.

Leitess said Hamel so prized the shotgun bought two days earlier that he took it to bed with him.

As the three teen-agers horsed around with it, Brown held it to Ace, and when he would not pull the trigger, Hamel did. Whether all three knew the weapon was loaded remains in dispute.

After the killing, a terrified Brown walked nearly 30 miles home.

Meanwhile, Ravenell said, his client was "18, scared out of his mind about what was going to happen."

Hamel took Ace's body into woods a mile away. When Ace did not return home the next day, his mother called Hamel and said he told her, "You better look behind the railroad tracks; he is probably back there drunk."

Brown called Hamel to say he was going to call the police. Hamel told him not to, Leitess said. But he did, and Hamel led police to Ace's body. Police later recovered the shotgun from Hamel's home.

Pub Date: 9/30/99

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