An Upper Marlboro man, who claims he shot his estranged wife in self-defense in a struggle along Interstate 95 during rush hour, entered a plea agreement for involuntary manslaughter in Howard Circuit Court yesterday.
Robert Lee Hampton, 48, entered an Alford plea, meaning that he denies guilt but acknowledges the prosecution has enough evidence to convict him for the slaying of 46-year-old Janet Lorraine Hampton of Baltimore.
Senior Assistant State's Attorney Kate O'Donnell listed numerous motorists who saw the altercation between the Hamptons about 5 p.m. Jan. 28 as they stood outside the woman's maroon 1983 Jaguar south of Caton Avenue in Baltimore County.
"Each [witness] drove by with the impression that Janet Hampton was in trouble," Ms. O'Donnell said.
One witness, a passenger in a passing car, reported that she saw Mr. Hampton standing behind Mrs.Hampton with his hand on her shoulder, Ms. O'Donnell said. The witness then heard a "popping" sound. When she looked back, she saw Mrs. Hampton lying face down on the ground.
Ms. O'Donnell acknowledged that none of the witnesses saw a gun or the shooting. She added that tests taken after the shooting did not find any gunshot residue on the hands of Mr. Hampton or Mrs. Hampton.
R. Kenneth Mundy, Mr. Hampton's attorney, asserted that his client did not have gunshot residue on his hands because he never handled the weapon. He contended that Mrs. Hampton, who he said was wearing gloves, never took her hands off the gun.
"His hands did not hold the gun," Mr. Mundy said. "His hands were always free and clear of it."
Mr. Mundy said that Mrs. Hampton attacked Mr. Hampton as he drove the car south on I-95. At one point she put her foot on the gas pedal, so he had to pull the car off the highway, the attorney said.
Mr. Hampton got out of the car to urinate, and Mrs. Hampton followed him out with the gun in hand, Mr. Mundy said. She fired a shot between his legs, missing. She pulled the trigger two more times, but the bullets failed to discharge.
They began struggling over the gun, with the gun firing a bullet that struck Mrs. Hampton, Mr. Mundy said.
Mrs. Hampton was shot in the front of her neck with a .32-caliber revolver, Ms. O'Donnell said. The gun was between 4 to 12 inches away when it was fired.
The revolver was registered to Mr. Hampton, but he said he gave the gun to Mrs. Hampton five years ago for her protection, Ms. O'Donnell said. Investigators recovered the gun, which was tucked between the Jaguar's --board and fire wall.
Mr. Hampton told police he got his wife back into the Jaguar and continued driving south, looking for a hospital. The man later pulled the car to the shoulder near Route 100 in Howard County.
He got out of the car and walked across the highway to two state police troopers who were checking on an abandoned car on the northbound shoulder. Mr. Hampton was arrested immediately after reporting the shooting.
Mr. Hampton told police that he and his wife were arguing over money.
Ms. O'Donnell noted that the couple's relatives told police the Hamptons had a history of "rocky, longtime discord" during their 15-year marriage.
The relatives reported that Mr. Hampton had hoped for a reconciliation with his wife and was angry by Mrs. Hampton's decision to move to Baltimore and live with a woman, Ms. O'Donnell said.
The prosecutor noted that Mr. Hampton told one relative about one month before the shooting that "if he couldn't have her, nobody would."
Mr. Hampton originally faced a maximum sentence of life in prison for first-degree murder. His trial was to begin yesterday before Judge Cornelius Sybert Jr.
In the plea agreement, prosecutors will not seek a sentence of more than a seven-year prison term for involuntary manslaughter, a misdemeanor charge that carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison. Mr. Hampton will be sentenced by Judge Sybert on Nov. 2.