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Received ineffective assistance from attorney during trial


Staff writer

A woman serving life in prison for murdering her mother in 2007 was recently granted a hearing to argue for postconviction relief due to ineffective assistance she received from her attorney during her trial.

Barbara Louise Hampton, now 34, of Prince Frederick was arrested and charged in the Sept. 17, 2007, death of her mother, Pamela Sue Varner, 53, also of Prince Frederick. According to evidence argued in court hearings, Hampton beat and strangled her mother to death following an argument over cigarette money and the treatment of Hampton’s two children, and then hid her body in the trunk of Varner’s car until it was discovered several days later.

Hampton was convicted by a Calvert County Circuit Court jury of first-degree murder and was sentenced to life in prison without parole. She also was found guilty of first-degree assault, and that count was merged with the murder charge.

Hampton filed in June a petition for postconviction relief and was granted a hearing, which will take place at 1 p.m. Oct. 28. She will argue that had she received effective counsel, the outcome of her trial may have been different.

Judith B. Jones, assistant public defender of the collateral review division for the Office of the Public Defender, entered her appearance in the case earlier this month, but said Monday she did not wish to comment on the case at this time.

In Maryland, according to the petition, under the 1990 case Bowers v. State of Maryland, “a defendant must show that there is a substantial possibility that but for counsel’s deficient conduct that the outcome of the trial may well have been different.”

Hampton asserts in the petition that she received ineffective assistance of counsel by counsel’s failing to instruct the jury and/or court of a finding of not criminally responsible; failing to instruct the jury and/or court of evidence possession; failing to attain all evidence and records from the state prior to and during the trial; and failing to raise the issue of hearsay of witness testimony and/or suppressed testimony during the trial.

The petition also alleges ineffective assistance of counsel by counsel’s failing to request a change of venue. Hampton asserts in the petition that hers became a “high profile case” that was covered extensively by local news media, and thus, her attorney should have requested a change of venue.

According to original reports, investigators found Varner’s body in the trunk of her Honda Civic on Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2007. She was reported missing by a coworker the previous day after she failed to show up for work.

Original reports state that Hampton and Varner had been arguing over money for cigarettes and the treatment of Hampton’s children on the night of Sept. 17, 2007. Detectives said Hampton told them Varner got out of her bed and lunged toward Hampton. Hampton said she hit her with her elbow and her mother fell toward the mattress. Hampton allegedly said Varner bounced off the mattress and fell onto the floor.

Medical examiner Anna Rubio testified during the trial and said Varner’s cause of death was a combination of asphyxia and blunt force trauma, and Varner’s asphyxia was caused by compression of the neck and chest, original reports state. A witness who shared a cell with Hampton at the Calvert County Detention Center testified that Hampton told her she “sat on top of her mom and choked her.”

Defense Attorney Kenneth McPherson argued that strangulation was not mentioned in the final autopsy report, which was also outlined in the petition for postconviction relief.