It isn’t often that the defense attorney in a case outright tells you his client did in fact murder the person they’re accused of killing in their opening arguments, but that’s what happened Monday.
The trial of 42-year-old Deangelo Hemsley, accused of killing his father-in-law and attempting to kidnap his daughter at knifepoint, began Monday afternoon in Charles County Circuit Court after about three years of delays.
The Maryland Independent first reported on Hemsley’s arrest in April 2016, when he was allegedly caught trying to flee the scene of the crime with his father-in-law’s blood still on his hands. Hemsley had been separated from his wife for six months on April 23, 2016, when he allegedly entered the home of her father, 71-year-old John Edward Yates. Hemsley confronted the man in the basement, where his 12-year-old daughter allegedly witnessed her father stabbing her grandfather to death.
Hemsley is also accused of trying to kidnap his daughter at knifepoint, the Independent reported previously, but the girl was able to escape. Hemsley was apprehended by police around 8:17 p.m. that night. They found Yates dead of stab wounds to his upper body in his home and allegedly located a bloody knife in Hemsley’s car.
In August 2016, the Maryland Independent reported, Hemsley was found incompetent to stand trial due to a mental disorder. At a status hearing at the time, Hemsley “immediately became belligerent as proceedings began” and was escorted out of the courtroom shortly thereafter.
During Monday’s proceedings, Hemsley was calm throughout. In giving the state’s opening argument, Deputy State’s Attorney Karen Piper Mitchell opened by musing on the criteria used to evaluate what rating a film gets and how children factor in to those decisions. What the children at the home saw that night, Piper Mitchell said, far exceeded a horror movie.
“The horrific scene you’re going to see, these children weren’t protected from it,” Piper Mitchell said. As she walked the court through the events of that night, Piper Mitchell said Yates was seated in his favorite spot downstairs, watching a baseball game on television. All was as it should be, she told the court, until it wasn’t.
“Hemsley killed Mr. Yates. I represent him on that fact. There’s no dispute in this case,” began defense attorney David M. Simpson. When considering the events of that night, Simpson told the jury, “it gets complicated as we go along.” Simpson said his client allegedly killed Yates amidst a “strange set of circumstances,” a pattern of increasingly bizarre behavior that dated back to 2015 and was also the reason for Hemsley’s wife and daughter leaving home. Even his behavior prior to Yates’ death the night of the crime, Simpson said, was off.
Simpson cautioned the jury that “even trained professionals” were uncomfortable with the level of violence surrounding Yates’ death, as they would see, but urged that they pay close attention. Their attention to detail, Simpson said, would in turn demonstrate Hemsley was not in his right mind when he was accused of killing Yates.
Before court adjourned for the day Monday afternoon, the jury heard testimony from both Hemsley’s daughter and another juvenile male relative who was present at the home that evening and witnessed what happened, along with several of the responding officers from the Charles County Sheriff’s Office.
Hemsley’s daughter remained calm throughout her testimony, her voice only trailing off slightly before she began to recollect the particularly gruesome portions of the night. She testified to remembering her father entering the home through the screen door unexpectedly, without first announcing himself. He was demanding to know where she was, the girl said, and she couldn’t recall whether she had responded to him or not. In his testimony, her relative recalled that she did respond.
According to online court records, Hemsley is charged with first-degree murder, first- and second-degree assault, home invasion, kidnapping, second-degree child abuse, false imprisonment and possession of a dangerous weapon. At press time, Hemsley’s trial was ongoing and expected to continue throughout the week.