This morning, a preliminary hearing was held in the case of U.S. vs. Hannah. In the 9:30 a.m. hearing in front of Judge Frederick H. Weisberg, Assistant U.S. Attorney Fernando Campoamor argued that Robert “Rob” Hannah be prosecuted for “voluntary manslaughter” in relation to the death of Tony Hunter. After hearing arguments from Campoamor and Hannah’s attorney, Madalyn R. Harvey, as well as testimony from D.C. police department detective Jacqueline S. Middleton, Weisberg ruled that there was probable cause for only involuntary manslaughter in the case.
“This is a very difficult case and a very tragic one,” said Weisberg. “It’s almost like a law school exam on the elements of homicide.” Much of the nearly two-and-a-half hour hearing consisted of the judge and the U.S. attorney arguing the finer points of 2nd degree murder, voluntary manslaughter, and involuntary manslaughter. Detective Middleton was the only witness questioned in the proceedings, but she spoke for four other witnesses, referred to as W-1 to W-4, whom she and lead detective Jed Worrell had interviewed over the course of their investigation. Hannah watched the proceedings in an orange prison jumpsuit and blue skeakers, his wrists handcuffed in front of him.
The difference between voluntary and involuntary manslaughter in the case is a fine one. Under voluntary manslaughter, the offender acts in “the heat of passion” and in response to a “reasonable provocation,” but does intend to kill or cause serious physical harm to the victim. In involuntary manslaughter, the offender does not intend to kill, but acts with reckless disregard for the victim’s safety. Both differ from second degree murder in that there are “mitigating circumstances” involved in the case.
In Hannah’s case, the mitigating circumstance is the allegation, made by Hannah and one other witness, that Tony Hunter approached him and touched his buttocks and genitals, provoking the assault. Campoamor argued that Hunter’s “provocation was insufficient” to justify the assault, while Harvey argued that Hannah’s response was “reasonable” and “in self-defense.” In the courtroom, the fact that Hunter sexually assault Hannah was not disputed by either party, though Detective Middleton did note testimony from one witness who indicated the assault was unprovoked.
Beyond the alleged sexual assault, gender and sexual orientation were discussed only briefly in the proceedings. “If Mr. Hannah were a woman . . . If someone assaulted a woman and she punched him, no one would argue that that was not a reasonable response,” Harvey said. Later, Harvey argued that Hannah’s motivation to attack Hunter was reasonable based on the figures involved in the case. Hannah was a “teenage boy” responding to a sexual threat from an “older man . . . at least his size,” she said. Weisberg said he didn’t think gender or sexual orientation were factors in the case. “It’s either self-defense or it’s two assaults,” he said, indicating the two scenarios that will likely be argued in the trial.
UPDATE: According to the office of U.S. Attorney’s Office spokesperson Channing Phillips, Hannah will first be placed into a “halfway house” and will later be considered for placement within the D.C. Pretrial Services Agency’s High Intensity Supervision Program, or HISP, “if and when he’s eligible.” You can read more about HISP here [PDF]