Hamby guilty of rape of a child

May 10—Editor's note: In keeping with the Chronicle's long-standing policy of not identifying sexual assault victims, certain identifying details are not included in this report.

For an hour and six minutes, a scared 12-year-old girl was taken, driven to a remote wooded area, sexually assaulted, and then driven home.

Now age 16, the victim took the witness stand in a two-day trial. She had never been kissed. The teen told a Cumberland County jury her thoughts during the night that changed her life. A night she did not know whether she would live or die in the remote woods with not a house in sight.

"I thought nothing good was going to come to this ... I thought about running ... but the only option was to do what he said."

It took that jury less time than the unspeakable ordeal she underwent to find her assailant guilty of rape of a child.

On June 21, John Wayne Hamby, 42, Westel, will learn his fate at a scheduled sentencing hearing. Rape of a child carries a sentence, by law, of 25-40 years at 100%, with little incentive written into the law for good behavior time credit.

It was the tearful and obviously painful reliving of the events of Aug. 28-29, 2020, to which the victim testified. Assistant District Attorney Jessica Krebs skillfully and compassionately questioned her about the assault.

Her testimony Wednesday was supported by DNA testing that processes the genetic information inside cells of the body that helps make people who they are, and identify those people.

Further collaboration to the victim's testimony came from a phone tracking app called Life360 that allows the tracking of movements of persons in a closed network.

The victim testified Hamby arrived where she was staying, told her to get into the car and to leave her phone. With the time and street displays on the vehicle's digital screen, the 12-year-old was driven to a remote, wooded area off Renegade Parkway.

She testified Hamby first told her they were "going to smoke some weed," and when she objected, she said Hamby got close to her face and blew the smoke from his marijuana into her face and mouth.

They traveled a bit further before Hamby stopped the vehicle, told her to get into the back seat and remove her clothing.

She cried as she complied with his demands, the girl testified. She quoted to the jury his response to her tears. "You can cry your eyes out. I don't care." The assault was painful, physically and mentally.

When she was returned, the pre-teen checked her Life360 app which showed leaving at 11:19 p.m. Aug. 28 and returning at 12:18 a.m. Aug. 29. She messaged a friend, confided in the friend about the assault. Her friend told her, "You have to tell your mother. Either you tell her or I will." With friend at her side, she told her mother.

Law enforcement was called followed by a trip to East Tennessee Children's Hospital where an examination was conducted and evidence obtained.

Assistant District Attorney Randall Gilliam called a series of witnesses who testified as to the preservation of evidence. Those witnesses included Dr. Michelle Hall of ETCH, Breanna Scott of ETCH who took custody of the evidence, former CCSO investigators David Bowman and Chad Norris, who handled the evidence and kept it secured and CCSO Capt. Butch LeFebvre who is the current evidence custodian.

Bowman also testified he took a photo of the victim's cell phone screen showing the time stamp on the Life360 app. Bowman testified he also obtained a search warrant for a DNA swab taken orally from Hamby.

This set the stage for Dr. Laura Boos, a retired TBI forensic scientist, who explained DNA and how it relates to body fluid found during the examination of the victim at ETCH. With no doubt, Boos testified the DNA found on the victim matched Hamby's DNA, collaborating her recall of the assault.

The task of defending Hamby fell on defense attorney Jeff Vires and it was no small task. In today's Criminal Court atmosphere, a positive DNA identification is a high hurdle to overcome.

Vires had most recently defended a homicide suspect successfully, convincing a jury the fatal shooting of a Fairfield Glade area man was less than murder. Vires was able to avoid a life sentence for his client. Unlike the homicide case, facts in the rape case seemed overwhelming.

Vires promoted a theory that Hamby suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) suffered serving tours of duty in Afghanistan and Iraq. One of the tours with the U.S. Marines, resulted in a head injury. Hamby suffers periodic episodes related to PTSD, which was confirmed by testimony from the teen's mother.

The girl's mother testified she had witnessed Hamby's episodes which seemed more frequent when the defendant "was off his medicines" or the prescription drugs had not arrived from the Veterans Affairs on schedule.

She continued that Hamby would slip into a mind thought of him being chased by Al-Qaeda. In one incident, Hamby believed the enemy was outside a residence trying to break in so he turned on water in a bathtub and let it run for ten hours, flooding the basement so the enemy would drown.

Around the time of the incident, the mother said Hamby was suffering from hallucinations and loss of memory. "Something was just not right," she observed.

When asked by Gilliam about her original disbelief that the incident had taken place, the mother responded, "I didn't want to believe it happened, but the team (investigators and social workers) convinced me. I do believe it happens ... in this situation, nobody wins."

Her testimony concluded, "I'm trying to figure out the why in it ... it is a terrible tragedy ... sending him away doesn't solve anything. He is in hell and has been ever since he came back from the war."

The jury quickly rejected that theory and in less than an hour, they took a break, discussed the evidence and voted guilty of the charge in the indictment, rape of a child.

Criminal Court Judge Gary McKenzie immediately revoked Hamby's bond and ordered him to remain in custody for the June 21 sentencing hearing.

Michael Moser may be reached at mmoser@crossville-chronicle.com