Mother celebrates conviction, still questions investigation

by Eric Ginsburg

The letter may have been addressed to the judge, but it was really for Thomas Ruggerio Hinson. Outside a federal courtroom in Greensboro on Nov. 13, Ann Shaw conferred with the prosecutor Lisa Boggs as Hinson sat inside, waiting for his turn to be called before Judge William Osteen Jr. for sentencing, grinning periodically as if he did not fully understand the gravity of the situation.

By the time Hinson’s name was called, Shaw sat in the front row with a friend who had come for support. She waited intently for the sentence to be handed down and hoped she would have a chance to address the court, and by proxy Hinson, to tell him that she was the reason he would do time.

Almost two years ago Hinson shot and killed her 25-year old son, Christopher Shaw Hewett. Greensboro police ruled Hinson’s actions justifiable, stating that Hewett had robbed Hinson in his own home and that Hinson acted in self-defense, an explanation that didn’t make any sense to Shaw. Digging into Hinson’s lengthy criminal history, Shaw tried relentlessly to put together the specifics of her son’s death and bring to light information indicating his innocence, but said the Greensboro police were less than cooperative.

After realizing that Hinson was a convicted felon and shouldn’t have had a firearm in his possession, Shaw said she unsuccessfully tried to get the Greensboro police to involve Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, or ATF, before contacting the federal agency directly.

Hinson was sentenced on Nov. 13 to roughly 16 years in prison for stealing and possessing several guns while under electronic monitoring as part of his parole for a previous crime, along with possessing a fourth gun with an obliterated serial number that was used to shoot Hewett. Hinson was also charged with sawing off the barrel of the shotgun, or possessing a “weapon of mass death and destruction,” but the charge was dropped as part of his plea deal.

Hinson had already been convicted of possession of a firearm by a felon in 2005, as along with several gun and drug charges, including assault with a deadly weapon and inflicting serious injury in 1997.

“Judge, this is probably one of the worst records that’s been in this court in a while,” Boggs said in her argument.

Once he was led out of the courtroom, Shaw was allowed to address the court, profusely thanking the judge for Hinson’s lengthy sentence and stating her hope that somehow Hinson would discover she was the reason the ATF got involved and brought charges against him.

Despite Hinson’s conviction, the saga continues for Shaw, who had a meeting scheduled with some of Greensboro police’s top brass and a representative from the district attorney’s office on Tuesday that police canceled the day of without providing a reason, she said.

“Apparently they’re jurst not going to tell me about the investigation of my son,” Shaw said, adding that she had a right to know what happened. “I wasn’t even informed that they’d finished the investigation and that it had gone to the DA.”

Since her son’s death, she has tried to make sense of it all but said the details don’t add up.

Hewett, who had recently returned from drug rehabilitation, was staying with his mother just outside of Greensboro and was proud of finally getting clean. Shaw said he left her house on Feb. 5, 2011 to go to the store with a friend and never came home. The specifics of what happened that night still remain unclear, but Shaw and the police paint contradictory narratives that turn on different facts.

Police told Shaw that her son assaulted Hinson with a Mag Lite — a heavy flashlight — and that Hinson shot him four times in selfdefense. Officers responding to Hinson’s 911 call at 1802 Maplewood Lane said there was blood on his head and face when they arrived.

Shaw met and talked with various Greensboro police officers, including Chief Ken Miller, after the shooting and also did as much research as she could on her own.

As far as Shaw is concerned, the police version of the story doesn’t make sense, and her son was murdered. Hinson’s wallet, which was allegedly found in Hewett’s pocket, was not among the items sent for DNA testing, which could establish whether it was placed there after the fact, Shaw said, adding that she was intially told the wallet had been sent for testing.

Hewett owned a Mag Lite — his mother had given it to him for Christmas — but it was still at Shaw’s house and a different one was found at the scene. The batteries for the Mag Lite allegedly used in the incident were not checked for DNA, police told her, which Shaw felt could have proved the flashlight was not his.

According to the “factual basis” document from the prosecution in the gun charges case, Hinson repeatedly lied to police, both after Hewett was shot and later when he was caught with the stolen firearms. Shaw said his account couldn’t be trusted because he is not credible in general and especially because she feels he was trying to cover up a murder, possibly by planting his wallet and staging his injury.

Hewett was shot once in the back, twice in the back of his right shoulder and once in the side, complicating Hinson’s version of the story and indicating to Shaw that it was not an act of self-defense.

“Det. Mathews came to my home less than 3 days after my son was killed, and told me and my family that it was a cut and dried case of self defense,” Shaw wrote in a letter to the district attorney asking for a deeper investigation. “My question is how can they determine the ca[u]se of death in less than 48 hours… and decide the determination of the case before it has gone in front of the DA.”

Feeling like the investigation was not being properly or fully conducted, Shaw said she sensed police were covering something up, such as a possible connection to Capt. James Hinson because of their shared surname.

Speaking through Jim Clark, the city’s police attorney, Capt. Hinson said he is not related to Thomas Hinson to the best of his knowledge, and does not know him.

Miller countered much of Shaw’s narrative, and said there was abundant forensic evidence at the scene that a struggle took place including evidence that Hewett violently assaulted Hinson in the doorway before the struggle moved into the apartment while no evidence suggested otherwise.

State Bureau of Investigation lab results supported the department’s conclusion, he said, as did the district attorney’s office after he requested they look over the case.

“I don’t know what else to say except that she’s tried to conduct a parallel investigation without all the facts,” Miller said. “We have been through this case — I have been through this case. The evidence clearly, overwhelmingly supports self-defense. I’m sympathetic to Ms. Shaw but the facts are what they are.”

It’s not clear Shaw was the reason the ATF was involved either, Miller said, adding that he made it clear that he wanted to pursue federal gun charges if applicable.

“My understanding is that Officer [Michael] Montalvo was already working that case,” said Miller, referring to a violent crimes task force officer who is deputized

by the ATF. “I know that he worked with [Shaw] through the process.”

Montalvo confirmed that he spoke with Shaw several times, but said he and partner Jason Warren were already looking into whether to bring Hinson up on state or federal gun charges pursuant to protocol.

“She would call to see about the progress of the case, but like everything else, we were very limited in what we could tell her,” Montalvo said. “I had dealt with [Hinson] when I was in CID in the late ’90s in regards to a shooting. Outside forces do not and should not dictate how a case proceeds.”

In the courtroom, Hinson’s lawyer John Sherrill attempted to defend him by pointing to a psychological evaluation that was done, and said that previous psych evaluations had not been followed up. The results of the evaluation are sealed to the public.

“Thomas Hinson as I have come to know is a pleasant young man who is always quick with a smile,” his lawyer said.

“He has very limited intellect. His life was based around drugs. That’s what he’s got to get out of.”

Several times throughout the proceedings Osteen expressed his concern for Hinson’s actions, twice suggesting Hinson stop attempting to excuse his past convictions and let his lawyer speak on his behalf. Osteen said he was “very troubled” by the 911 call after Hewett was shot when Hinson told his sister to hide drugs.

Trying to explain to the judge why he had a gun, Hinson’s story changed from self-defense to saying he had been suicidal and that it would be better to shoot himself than endanger other people by running in front of a moving vehicle.

“I never intended to carry a firearm and break the law,” Hinson said. “I played it smart and tried to protect myself. I just ask your honor, can I have one more chance? You’re the only God that I know… I am very sorry for having a gun. I try to make things better so I can live kinda better. I hate to beg another man, you know what I’m saying, but I have to.”

Osteen read through Hinson’s record beginning with the 1997 charges and said this was his sixth chance already.

Hinson responded by saying that he shot someone in self-defense in 1997 and said he pled guilty hoping for less time and an opportunity to explain his actions.

“I didn’t catch charges intentionally,” he said before Osteen stopped him again. “I’m guilty with an explanation. I ain’t flat-out guilty.”

As Osteen read the sentence, starting with 192 months for one of the charges, Shaw jumped back in her seat in surprise at the long sentence. Hinson was still smiling, but not beaming as strongly as before, as the judge spelled out the details of his sentence before seeming to realize how long he would be in prison.

“I can’t do no 13 years,” Hinson said after asking to address the court and being denied.

Shaw was not legally considered the victim in the case, preventing her from saying anything before sentencing and Hinson’s removal from the courtroom, but expressing his condolences for her loss, Osteen invited Shaw to speak.

“I am very sorry for the loss you have suffered in this case,” he said. “For whatever it’s worth, I hope this does provide you some closure.”

Her voice shaking, Shaw said if the state hadn’t released Hinson on parole her son would still be alive, and would have turned 27 on Nov. 18. With tears in her eyes, Shaw said her father, the late Republican Guilford County Commissioner and NC Sen. Bob Shaw, would be “jumping up and down in heaven.”

“I just want to thank you so much for putting that man away,” Shaw said. “I did want Thomas Hinson to know [it was me].”