Mr. Fix-it Is Guilty
After cheerfully quoting from the Bible and almost getting his lawyer thrown in jail for contempt, Roger M. Hammond, the television and radio personality Phoenix once knew as "Mr. Fix-It," was convicted of murder and sentenced to twenty years in an Arkansas jail.
A jury in the small town of Malvern deliberated for less than two hours Friday before finding Hammond guilty of second- degree murder in the shooting death last April of a 45-year-old Kentucky woman alongside an Arkansas highway. Upon hearing the jury's verdict, Hammond told the judge, "Praise God, they did their job."
Hammond may be eligible for parole in seven years. He had been charged with capital murder and would have faced death by lethal injection had he been convicted.
Hammond, 44, owned Ace Fix-It shops in Tempe and Camp Verde and gave out repair tips over KTAR and PM Magazine in the mid-1980s. On the first day of the trial, Hammond threw a curve at his lawyers. He handed attorney Edward E. Scrimshire a letter and, smiling, said, "Read it and weep." In the letter, Hammond revealed he would not take the stand. "In the name of Jesus Christ, I am innocent and I release the power of God's angels to defend me and set me free," he wrote.
Hammond's last-minute change of heart not to plead self-defense prompted the judge to threaten defense attorney George Hopkins with contempt. However, the judge later withdrew his threat.
Frances Mouser and Hammond had met on Interstate 30 while traveling to Arizona. Police say Hammond shot Mouser twice in the head with a .25-caliber pistol and then stole her belongings, including a diamond ring he later pawned in Phoenix and cans of black-eyed peas police found in Hammond's travel trailer in Tempe.
The case attracted the attention of Arizona authorities when it was learned that Hammond had lived directly above the apartment of a Tempe woman who was knocked unconscious and then burned to death in 1984. The murder of Kathleen Marie Smith, the daughter of a Tempe city councilwoman, was one of the college town's most notorious crimes.
Tempe police have described Hammond's acquaintance with Kathleen Marie Smith as a coincidence and say the prime suspect in the case is Robert S. Ortloff, a former business partner of Smith's who is serving fifty years in a Texas prison for mailing a pipe bomb to the husband of a former girlfriend.
While Hammond was being sentenced for the Mouser murder, federal authorities were returning Ortloff to Phoenix for another trial. Federal public defender David Taylor Shannon says his client is charged with possession of a silencer, a felony punishable by up to ten years in prison. Federal authorities allege they found the silencer in Ortloff's Phoenix apartment in January 1986 while serving a search warrant on the bombing charge, says Shannon. Shannon says he doesn't know why authorities waited more than three years to charge Ortloff.
Meanwhile, Ortloff, who took out large insurance policies on Smith before she died, claims that Hammond may have killed her. "I don't believe in bizarre coincidences," says Ortloff, who called New Times from the Madison Street Jail. "The Tempe police know she had problems with the guy."
However, Tempe police lieutenant Stephen Graehling says his department has no reason to believe Smith and Hammond were anything more than neighbors. "Mr. Ortloff is still the person we feel . . . was involved in it," he says. "His motive behind trying to redirect the blame would be obvious." However, Graehling says his department does hope to talk to Hammond about the Smith case.
The Tempe cops will be able to find Hammond at the Arkansas State Prison at Cummings. And they aren't the only Arizona authorities who may be calling on Mr. Fix-It. The Coconino County Sheriff's Office still considers Hammond a suspect in the armed robbery of a tourist couple last May at the Grand Canyon. A Department of Public Safety detective wants to question Hammond about the death last summer of a 62-year-old Camp Verde man who worked at the shopping center where Hammond operated a second Ace Fix-It shop. That man, Oral Wildman Gillis, was found dead on a Denver riverbank after allegedly falling off a bridge.
The mustachioed Hammond, who used to dress up as Santa Claus and fix children's toys for free, seems to be taking his conviction in stride. "He's never been depressed at all," says Scrimshire.
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