The man accused of shooting and killing an Atlanta-based rapper will spend the next 25 years in jail.
While a Fulton County jury acquitted Vinson Hardimon of murder and felony murder – causing someone’s death by committing a felony – he was convicted of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and possession of a handgun during the commission of a felony for the December 2011 altercation that ended with the death of Mario Hamilton, also known as rapper Slim Dunkin.
When handing down the maximum sentence, Fulton County Superior Court Judge Craig Schwall pointed to a gun incident involving Hardimon, 29, eight months before Hamilton’s death.
“I just think he’s prone to carry a gun, and he’s violent and dangerous,” Schwall said.
Hamilton’s father, Mark Hamilton, voiced his displeasure with the murder and felony murder acquittals, but facing the recent death of his mother on Sunday, expressed some relief that the trial was over and Hardimon would get jail time.
“I’m disappointed with that verdict,” Hamilton said. “I don’t know what (the jury) saw. In the end, he got 25 years and we can have some closure.”
Prosecutors alleged that Hardimon shot Hamilton, 24, during a fight at Hardimon’s east Atlanta studio on Dec. 21, 2011. Hamilton, who was there to record a video with rapper Gucci Mane, found himself in a scuffle with Hardimon.
After the two combatants were initially separated, witnesses said Hamilton – unarmed – rushed at Hardimon, and Hardimon shot and killed the up-and-coming rapper.
Still, following the verdict, Hardimon’s attorney pointed out that the jury’s decision didn’t add up.
“There is an inconsistent verdict for Count 3 and the underlying felony of Count 2,” attorney Max Hirsch said. “The underlying felony for Count 2 is of aggravated assault. They found him not guilty of Count 2.”
In the first two counts of the indictment, the jury was asked to find Hardimon guilty of either murder and felony murder or two counts of voluntary manslaughter, or not guilty of each count.
In this case, the aggravated assault was the underlying felony for the felony murder charge – in other words, the felony that caused Hamilton’s death.
Typically, juries find guilt for the felony murder and the underlying felony go hand-in-hand.
But Fulton assistant district attorney Linda Dunikoski pointed out an exception Schwall made in this case.
“The jury asked about this, and the Court’s response, as agreed to by defense counsel was that each charge was to be considered individually,” Dunikoski said.
Hardimon’s mother, Anna Gail Hardimon, said her son’s dream was to open a music studio to give people in the east Atlanta community a chance to better themselves.
“My son has been made out to be a horrible person,” she said. “His dream was taken from him, along with his time with his children.”
But Dunikoski referred back to the April 27, 2011, aggravated assault charge for which Hardimon took an “Alford” guilty plea – not admitting actual guilt, but rather that a prosecutor might find enough evidence to convince a jury to convict – on accusations that he held a gun on his ex-girlfriend and her 16-year-old daughter.
He was arrested and released on $36,000 bond.
Hardimon made this plea last year while already in jail for Hamilton’s shooting, in exchange for a suspended sentence and the dismissal of lesser charges, and Schwall withheld the details of that arrest and charge from the jury during the trial.
Following the verdict, however, Dunikoski eagerly reminded Scwhall of the incident, and how the two cases were linked.
“While out on bond for those charges, he committed this crime with the very same handgun,” she said, asking for the maximum sentence. “The state is asking you to send a message.”
But Hirsch countered that the jury’s verdict did not call for such a steep reprimand.
“The key point is to honor the jury’s wishes,” he said.
Schwall said he couldn’t ignore the evidence from the previous gun incident and the disturbing precedent it seemed to set with regard to Hardimon’s history.
“How important is it to protect society from violent criminals?” the judge asked Hirsch.
“Very important,” Hirsch responded.
“The problem I’ve got is that we’ve got a gun incident,” Schwall said. “Whether or not it happened, it’s on a 9-1-1 tape. Then we take the gun, and it’s in a subsequent crime.
“There are two kinds of criminals. The ones we’re mad at and the ones we’re scared of. My job is to protect society from the ones we’re afraid of.”