FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- A family forced to take sides against a man accused of causing the death of their mother.
"He won't even admit to taking any part in it," said Connie Cooper. "All he said is that he's innocent."
More than 30 years ago, a Tulare County jury sentenced Michael Hamilton to die for the murder of his wife and their unborn baby.
In the pictures on the wall of her home, Connie Cooper's daughter, Kaylee, is a year old -- the exact same age Connie was when her mother died. Cooper has just this single photo of her mom, and no memories. In fact, she never knew why both parents were out of her life until she was 12 and a homicide detective showed up at a family reunion. He told all four kids their father, Michael Hamilton, shot and killed their mother, Gwendolyn.
"From then on out, that's all we knew about mom is how she died," said Cooper.
Michael Hamilton took up residence on death row after a Tulare County jury condemned him. Three decades later, an appellate court overturned just the death sentence, so a jury will need to listen to new evidence about the abuse Hamilton suffered as a child before deciding whether he deserves the death penalty. The process starts this week. ABC30 legal analyst Tony Capozzi says an execution is unlikely.
"He will probably be dead by the time an actual resolution of this case ever comes about," he said.
Cooper and her siblings know that, too, but when prosecutors say their dad deserves to be on death row, they'll agree.
"When you're dealt this hand of a lifetime that just seems to be a tragedy day in and day out until you're able to make your own life as an adult as best as you possibly can, death row is a fair trade," Cooper said.
New details and new pain come from each appeal and each parole hearing for the other players in Hamilton's plot. And closure didn't come for cooper in time for her wedding, where her mother's photo served as a place setting. But marriage may have gotten her closer than ever to understanding a mother's love -- in the form of her mother-in-law.
"I don't see her, not one single time, that she doesn't give me a hug and a kiss," Cooper said of her husband's mother. "And at 34 years old, I finally know what it's like."
And now pushing four years old, Kaylee has known it from Day One.
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