Marriage Can Be Murder, Sometimes

1. Donna Hamm, a former Flagstaff justice of the peace, met James Hamm at one of his college classes in prison and subsequently married him. In 1983, the Hamms formed Middle Ground, an inmate-rights advocacy group.

2. In 1974, James Hamm, a former marijuana dealer, shot a Tucson man twice in the head. The man died, and Hamm served 17 years in prison for first-degree murder. There, he obtained a college degree and became a paralegal and champion of inmates' rights. Hamm did not gain widespread fame, however, until 1993, when he was admitted to the Arizona State University law school. The school's acceptance of the murderer-student caused an uproar that made national news, including an appearance by Hamm on the Today show. Hamm is currently on parole.

3. The Hamms told Tempe police they had been arguing about their relationship earlier on October 15 of last year. James Hamm had pulled up to their business office in the Hamms' automobile, rolled down the window and asked Donna to get in the car to talk. She did. An argument ensued, and Donna tried to get the keys away from James. Police found her crying at the Circle K. There, Donna directed them to James, who was inside. When asked if James was armed, Donna Hamm told police she was not sure.

Officer J.M. Holdinsky recounted events this way:
"Donna Hamm told me that she had screamed at her husband to let her out of the vehicle and he would not stop. She also told me that she had yelled out the window of the car that she was being kidnapped. Donna Hamm described her husband as driving like a 'maniac' and expressed fear for her safety because of his driving and her inability to exit the vehicle safely. . . . She grabbed the steering wheel hoping it would make her husband stop the vehicle, which it did. When the vehicle stopped, she attempted to remove the keys from the ignition and her husband pushed her back against the seat."

Donna Hamm showed police a four-inch vertical scratch below her chin. She also stated that as her husband exited the vehicle, she ripped his tee shirt.

4. Middle Ground, often criticized because of Donna Hamm's shrillness as a spokeswoman, has been involved in at least five successful lawsuits against the Arizona Department of Corrections. Those lawsuits gave inmates greater access to mail, visitors and Christmas packages, among other things. The group also won a legal victory that opened state parole-board meetings to the public.

5. The address for Middle Ground's headquarters.

6. The address for the Hamm homestead.

7. Marty Lieberman, Donna Hamm's attorney, called Tempe police the day after the Hamm versus Hamm encounter to explain that his client had "embellished" her story the night before and had decided not to aid in prosecution of her husband.

8. The address of a Circle K convenience store.

9. Tempe police initially listed the case as "pending." Officer Holdinsky explains that designation at the end of three and one-half additional pages of narrative about the Hamm encounter: "Based on this additional information provided by Donna Hamm, it was decided that no kidnapping report would be completed but the incident would be documented in the form of an information report, which would be forwarded to the criminal investigation division for review and disposition." A spokesman said the case now is closed.

10. In a signed affidavit containing a recantation of her accusations against her husband, Donna Hamm told police, "At the time of this incident, I was feeling vindictive, angry and controlling." Attached to the affidavit were the results of a polygraph examination conducted by Cy Gilson of Gilson Polygraph Service in Phoenix. (Phone: 370-LIES.) Gilson concluded that Mrs. Hamm had told the truth when she recanted earlier complaints she had made to police. The affidavit and lie-detector test were apparently forwarded to James Hamm's parole officer.


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