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Brother withdraws plea after judge hands down stiff sentence

A key witness in the May murder trial of Tiawain Johnson is seeking to withdraw no contest pleas made to drug and firearm charges last month in Douglas County Circuit Court.

Jerard Gregory Hampton, 33, of Chicago pleaded no contest June 4 to delivering cocaine, possession with intent to deliver heroin and being a felon in possession of a firearm. Prior to his sentencing hearing Monday, Hampton’s attorney Rick Gondik filed a motion to withdraw his client’s pleas on the heroin and firearm charges. Hampton pleaded to the two counts, which he was not guilty of, the motion states, and he did not fully understand the consequences of those no contest pleas. Gondik requested that Judge Kelly Thimm adjourn the hearing to give both sides time to research arguments.

District Attorney Dan Blank recommended the motion be dismissed, saying it lacked a legal basis. Based on Hampton’s criminal history and time on the stand during the trial, Blank said, “ … this is not a person who doesn’t understand the court system.”

He told the court that Hampton’s second thoughts were probably prompted by the sentencing of his brother, Michael Earl Hawkins, last week.

Hawkins, 28, pleaded guilty May 30 to two counts of delivery of heroin and one count of delivery of cocaine. An additional seven felony drug counts were dismissed but read in for sentencing. Blank and Hawkins’ attorney, Donald Schwab, made a joint recommendation that he serve four years in prison and three years of extended supervision. Judge Thimm sentenced him Thursday to three consecutive 10-year sentences, a total of 15 years in prison and 15 years of extended supervision, based on the seriousness of the offenses and the high risk of recidivism.

Both Hawkins and Hampton testified at the Johnson trial, where a jury found Johnson not guilty of first-degree intentional homicide in the 2012 shooting death of 35-year-old Toriano Dawen Cooper. Blank offered both plea agreements that hinged on their cooperation at trial. At Hampton’s plea hearing in June, Blank recommended he serve five years imprisonment and five years of extended supervision. At their respective plea hearings, Thimm cautioned the brothers that he was not bound by the joint recommendation, he could sentence them higher or lower. Both indicated they understood prior to making their pleas.

Thimm adjourned the sentencing hearing and reset it for Aug. 25.

A defendant does have a right to withdraw a plea if there is a fair or just reason, he said. The judge also said that, from what he could remember of the plea hearing, there wasn’t any basis to withdraw the plea based on a lack of understanding on Hampton’s part.

The drug charges against Hampton and Hawkins stem from a series of monitored drug buys in Superior in the spring of 2012. Law enforcement officers executed a search warrant at the Superior residence where Hampton’s girlfriend lived. They seized about 25 grams of heroin, 63 grams of cocaine, 102 grams of crack cocaine, marijuana and a handgun, according to the criminal complaints.

Both Hawkins and Hampton have been in custody at the Douglas County Jail for more than two years.