FORT WAYNE – Devontae Hamlet had other options. The 21-year-old had graduated from high school, wanted to go to college and had strong family support.
But he looked away from those options in January 2013, instead running around with Michael Jefferson, 22, robbing and terrorizing Fort Wayne area residents who had done no more than venture from their cars to their apartment doors.
After a lengthy hearing Friday, Hamlet faces a 68-year prison sentence related to those choices he made a year ago.
In a Jan. 10, 2013, robbery at Island Club Apartments, near East Wallen and Auburn roads, a family was bound with duct tape on which Hamlet’s fingerprints were found, according to court documents.
In another robbery that night, Jefferson and Hamlet bound three men in a unit at Cambridge Square Apartments, near Coldwater and East Cook roads.
That robbery ended badly for Hamlet when one of the victims freed himself, grabbed a handgun from a closet and shot Hamlet as he fled.
A few minutes later, Hamlet showed up at Parkview Hospital with a gunshot wound, according to court documents.
Along with the two Jan. 10 robberies, Hamlet was charged in two apartment holdups reported the night of Jan. 7.
Two other men were charged with receiving stolen property in connection with some of the robberies. Corey Harris and Tiron Beard each pleaded guilty in October and will be sentenced in March.
Allen County Deputy Prosecutor Adam Mildred told the court during Friday’s sentencing hearing that there were other robberies with which Hamlet and Jefferson were never charged.
Originally charged with 16 counts – ranging from robbery to criminal confinement to battery – Hamlet pleaded guilty in December to nine charges related to the robbery spree.
Jefferson also pleaded guilty and is awaiting sentencing.
On Friday, Hamlet cried openly, putting his head down on the table in front of him as his grandmother told Allen Superior Court Judge Fran Gull about how the then-teenager had traveled to Alabama to help her after she’d had a series of strokes.
He took care of her in every way, she said, and did so to allow his little brother to pursue a good job opportunity in Ohio. Hamlet stayed with his grandmother for six months.
Not long after he left his grandparents in Alabama, Hamlet was tying up a toddler in duct tape and putting a gun in people’s faces.
“There was no reason for me to do what I did,” Hamlet said, apologizing profusely to his victims and to his family for what he put them through.
“I ask God every night to forgive me for what I’ve done,” he said. “I got hard-headed. I thought I was grown, but I’m not.
“I feel like I need to be punished for what I’ve done. I put myself in a bad situation. I gave up a lot of opportunities I had.”
Other family members testified about his dedication to them, about the fine example he set in the home by graduating and looking into college and the military.
“I don’t understand it,” his mother said of Hamlet’s crime spree.
His attorney, Michelle Kraus, said she considers Hamlet’s remorse genuine. She said she witnessed a complete transformation of his attitude as the case progressed and when he decided to plead guilty.
“He has accepted that he did this,” Kraus said. “He truly is sorry about the terror (he caused).”
Gull, too, took his remorse at more than face value.
“I think you are genuinely sorry for the devastation you caused these people, and your family,” she said. “I think you are not a bad person, but you’re living with these consequences for many, many years.”
As she described the seriousness of the crimes, calling them hideous and describing how Hamlet tied up a toddler, he nodded in agreement.
“You’ve done some really bad things,” Gull said.
Gull sentenced Hamlet to a total of 68 years in prison – 20 years on a charge of felony burglary causing injury and six years each on the remaining eight charges.
As he was led out of the courtroom, Hamlet looked over his shoulder at his family.
“I love you,” he said.