Burford killer: 'I'm crying a river of tears inside'

Remorseful Tyrone Hamel gets life without parole for 1988 stabbing

Tyrone Maurice Hamel, the convict who last month confessed and pleaded guilty to the 1988 stabbing death of Palo Alto attorney Gretchen Burford, 49, received a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole this morning.

Hamel, who is now in his early 40s, confessed before a stunned court in January. The murder had remained a cold case until Michael Schembri, a Santa Clara District Attorney's Office investigator, reopened the case and used current DNA technology to help substantiate the case against Hamel.

In a Santa Clara County courtroom this morning, Hamel sat with his back to Burford's family and friends. Not a muscle twitched -- from his shaved head and broad shoulders down to his back -- while his victim's two daughters described the impact his actions have had on their lives in the two decades since he killed their mother at a Mountain View ATM.

But at the end, Hamel turned to face the family, tripping over the word "humanity" as he spoke. From his lips, the word repeatedly came out "hoo-man-in-ity." It is a word he had little experience with, he said.

"I ain't got no written statement. I don't really understand how somebody could show so much compassion. I'm just all shook up," he said.

"I don't know if y'all believe me or not, but I'm crying a river of tears inside. ... I just want to be a more productive human being in my life. I do feel pain inside -- the most extreme pain," he said, causing one of his defense attorneys to cry.

Dana Overstreet, supervising deputy district attorney, said outside the courtroom that in her years as a prosecutor, she had never had anything happen such as Hamel's January confession and apology after a 20-year-old crime.

Maureen Burford, the elder of Gretchen Burford's daughters, said that after her mother died she had a powerful, direct experience of her mother's presence.

"I could feel my mother there with us in our grief: expansive, nurturing, wise. Her life no longer seemed limited in its form," she said.

"It is my conviction that we never become our behavior ... but as adults, whatever we inherit, life can be a journey of transformation, no matter where it is lived -- whether it is in prison or at home," she told Hamel.

Younger daughter Martha Burford said her mother had become a criminal defense attorney in her 40s, actively seeking to change young juvenile defenders' lives. Gretchen Burford chose to be a child advocate.

"I've never known anyone with so much life force who could change ... people's lives. ... This was the magic of my mother," she said.

Most of Hamel's victims are women, she said. The irony is that her mother, a woman, "would have helped you and would've tried to turn your life around. (And) two women -- my sister and I -- have sought to spare your life."

Gretchen Burford did not believe in the death penalty, her family has said.

Former State Senator Becky Morgan, who served on the Palo Alto school district board, said outside the courtroom that Gretchen Burford had been her best friend. When Burford died, Morgan was the one who broke the news to Burford's children.

"She was the sister I never had. It was pretty traumatic," she said. "I was about to give up [on the police solving the crime. It was 17 years when they found him."

Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Jerome E. Brock said he believed Hamel's apologies are sincere. He said Gretchen Burford is remembered by the courts for her compassion. It is a cruel irony that Hamel is exactly the type of person Burford would have tried to help, he added.

In addition to the life sentence without parole to be run consecutively with a one-year weapons-enhancement conviction, Brock imposed a $10,000 fine for restitution, which he suspended.

He accepted the prosecution's request to drop charges in a separate robbery trial. Hamel was ordered returned to Texas, where he is already serving a life sentence plus 60 years for robberies and assaults.

Schembri, the detective who reopened the case, said the sentencing feels good. "It's appropriate," he said.

In January, the district attorney's office stopped funding a dedicated cold-case investigator and cold-case prosecutor due to budget cuts. Those cases are now looked at on a case-by-case basis, a spokesman for the district attorney's office has said.

What is community worth to you?
Support local journalism.


2 people like this
Posted by Terrell
a resident of Monroe Park
on Feb 23, 2008 at 4:16 pm

Of course he's crying inside. He's(Tyrone Hamel) a cold blooded killer and finally got caught. These kind of people do not cry for what they have done, they cry because they were caught!

2 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 23, 2008 at 8:16 pm

This so called cold blooded killer is already caught and serving 60 year sentence. His reason for repenting just may be that, repentance. His life is not going to change because of this apology, so I see no other reason for the pretty speech. Sometimes, people do say sorry because they are sorry.

4 people like this
Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 24, 2008 at 6:24 am

And sometimes people do evil things because they are evil. They have decided that it is easier to take than to earn. They reduce the occupational hazard by taking from the weak.

8 people like this
Posted by Seth
a resident of another community
on Feb 24, 2008 at 7:39 pm

I was a witness to the crime and I testified in this case. As I sat in the witness stand I looked into Mr. Hamel's eyes and what I saw was remorse and shame. He hadn't said a word about admitting the crime or any apology yet. He honestly looked very sorry, not for himself, but for the family members, particularly as he looked to them.

I'm not being sympathetic, I'm telling what I saw, in person. In fact I was quite shocked by his remorseful composure. Yes he did a horrible thing, one that will stay with the family, friends (and the witnesses) forever. I'll always be upset with him for what he put me through personally. But being there in person and being a part of this I really do believe that he meant what he said.

Until (the more conservative) members of the community can be as accepting of his apology as the own flesh and blood of his victim are more of the residual hate from this crime will continue to live on. It doesn't have to, let this and Ms. Burford rest in peace. Her family and friends deserve it.

4 people like this
Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 25, 2008 at 4:49 am

Sorry don't shuck no oysters. This killer's remorse is irrelevant. At one time he decided that his gratification excused killing someone.
I believe there is a duty to execute murderers,and that government that shirks that duty bears responsibility for all the subsequent crimes a murderer commits - and they do commit more crimes. 45% of the men on California's death row are there for killing they committed after release from another killing.

2 people like this
Posted by gt
a resident of another community
on Mar 4, 2008 at 4:30 pm

Why do the citizens of this country have to settle for "life in prison", which costs a bloody fortune? Why can't we spend $1 on some bullets, or $5 for a rope? Or a few dollars worth of electricity? Or a sharp knife - let him die the way his victim did.

This society is WEAK. letting its killers and monsters share the air with us. Its not compassionate, its not enlightened. Its stupid. There is no point to living cooped in a box with the other monsters. just end these useless lives!

4 people like this
Posted by Who are the real monsters?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 5, 2008 at 12:35 am

"This society is WEAK. letting its killers and monsters share the air with us. Its not compassionate, its not enlightened. Its stupid. There is no point to living cooped in a box with the other monsters. just end these useless lives!"
Only 5 countries have managed to execute more people than the U.S. in 2006. In order of executions they are: China, Iran, Pakistan, Iraq and Sudan. Is this the "enlightened, compassionate" company you seek?

According to Amnesty International, executions are known to have been carried out in the following countries in 2006: Bahrain, Bangladesh, Botswana, China, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Japan, Jordan, Korea (North), Kuwait, Malaysia, Mongolia, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Uganda, USA, Viet Nam, Yemen.

We are second in the world only to Iran for number of executions of child offenders since 1990.

As far as "ending these useless lives", how do you reconcile the irreversible nature of the penalty when it is mistakenly administered to the innocent?

You could use some enlightenment and compassion yourself, gt.

2 people like this
Posted by gt
a resident of another community
on Mar 5, 2008 at 12:31 pm

No, you're reading the post wrong. Im pointing out the hypocrisy of these misguided liberals. They're ridiculous and inconsistent. can't argue their way out of a paper bag. What is the POINT of a life in prison!? its more compassioned, its more engligtened, this is their idiotic mantra. Its not! Its a wasted investment. There is no return. Being in prison for life isn't humane. Have you see the prison population? animals! Its like Lord of the Flies in there.

We execute a lot of people because there are lot who deserve to die. If only we could purge the Death Rows of these crazy backlogs - people been there for 20 years or more!. Isn't there some kind of expedient way to kill em all simultaneously? What about a boxcar converted to be a sort of a gas chamber? Mass firing squads in states where its legal.?

and of course I knew you'd bring up the issue of the mistaken punishment. Well, thats a separate problem. If juries would quit convicting people based on flimsy hearsay and conjecture and personal bias and belief, we wouldn't have this problem anymore. Thats nothing to do with punishment, and everything to do with a busted judicial system which is capricious and inaccurate. how many innocent people are sitting in Death Row for crimes they didn't commit? No idea. In any case, it doesn't matter, if the alternative is life in prison, which is no life at all. Sitting in prison for life contributes nothing to society, certainly, but takes away a great, stress on the people who have to administer these places, etc. Capital punishment is just a weak society's alternative to doing the right thing. If you're so evil you can never again be allowed to walk amongst us, then you're clearly evil enough to be killed. I have never seen the point of "life in prison" sentences. Its an inconsistent message.

Like this comment
Posted by james morales
a resident of another community
on Apr 25, 2008 at 10:25 am

I was one of those people who with the touch of Gretchens love turned around for the better, I was in Juv. hall, childrend shelter,foster care, group home, boys ranch, youth authority, ankle monitor, probation, parole, prison. I loved her, and will always love her. I have been out of the system for many years, I am a pastor, We have drug and alcohol residential programs, outpatient programs, etc. All this because of an extrodinary women who loved me, when everyone else gave up on me. My life serves as an echo of her voice. Never give up james!! that was her words to me all the time. Gretchen, may your love and compassion live in the lives of all of us. Bob, Maureen, Pete, Martha, and Becky Moragan may Gretchens life be an example to us, she loves all of you..

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

Be the first to know

Get the latest headlines sent straight to your inbox every day.

Palo Alto, rejoice. Mike's Cafe is back.
By Elena Kadvany | 4 comments | 2,149 views

Premarital and Couples: Musings on Life
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 1,545 views

Why we are Warming
By Sherry Listgarten | 27 comments | 1,404 views

Cap On? Cap Off? The Cities Respond
By Laura Stec | 4 comments | 1,203 views

The summer bucket list
By Cheryl Bac | 2 comments | 880 views