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The parents of murder victim Jesse Coward will make another trip to Kingston to ensure justice is dealt to their son’s best friend — and killer

Article by: By MARK BONOKOSKI
HUNTSVILLE — –
Before the break of dawn this morning, Ted and Leena Coward will once again begin the four-and-a-half hour trek to a courthouse in Kingston to watch the young man who murdered their son face charges of knifing another inmate with a jailhouse shiv.
It will be their second trip to Kingston this month.
The last one, in Leena Coward’s eyes, turned out to be farcical.
Christopher Hammill has an apparent affinity for knives. Six years ago, not far from the main street of this town, Hammill committed one of the most brutal murders imaginable — literally slaughtering 19-year-old Jesse Coward, supposedly his best friend, in what can only be described as a brutal and sadistic case of over-kill.
First he knifed Ted and Leena Coward’s son in the back. Then he slit his throat. Then he stabbed him so many times — 72 separate wounds, according to the coroner’s report, and mostly about the face — that young Jesse Coward, an up-and-coming competitive swimmer, had to be officially identified through dental records.
Hammill, 19 at the time, claimed his rage was fuelled by angel dust and depression, but not until the cops had him nailed dead to rights.
Until the pieces fell into place, however, Christopher Hammill stood by a story that he and Jesse had been attacked by a knife-wielding stranger and that only he was able to fend the attacker off — which explained why he had banged on a neighbourhood door for sanctuary, why blood gushed from a sliced tendon in his hand and why, when Jesse Coward’s mutilated body was found, his wallet was missing.
But it was all a fabrication.
In time, Christopher Hammill would cop a plea to second-degree murder, and be sentenced to life imprisonment.
Parole board documents, at that time, had his first eligibility for day parole as March 2011.
But things have changed.
No sooner had Hammill bunked into maximum-security Millhaven Penitentiary than he was doing something no inmate is supposedly able to do, and he did it with success. He managed to slip a six-page letter past his handlers and get it mailed to his victim’s family.
“Dear Ted and Leena,” it began.
“I hope you are both well, and are getting the love and the support that you deserve,” he wrote. “This is from my heart … sincerely Chris.”
To this day, that letter still gives Leena Coward the chills.
When the baddest of the bad get too bad for guards at Canada’s federal penitentiaries to handle, they are exiled to the penal facility at Sainte-Anne-des Plaines, a short ride from Montreal.
It is known as The SHU, as in “shoe”, phonetic short form for the Special Handling Unit. And it was to the SHU that Christopher Hammill went when he allegedly knifed a fellow inmate at Millhaven in September 2006, and why the Cowards are today making another trip to Kingston — to watch their son’s killer stand trial for another case of assault with a weapon, this one non-fatal.
“If we can make him squirm, we will,” says Leena. “We want to be there every step of the way, every time he appears in court. We want to ensure that he never gets parole.”
“And we want him to see us. We want him to know.”
Christopher Hammill is now 25. He was hauled back from The SHU to Kingston at October’s end to await for an opening in the court’s schedule. His date for trial was finally set for Nov. 7 — the day the Cowards made their first nine-hour round trip from here to there.
There is apparently a video tape of Hammill’s alleged altercation with another inmate at Millhaven, recorded in E-Range, a video that was then transferred onto a DVD so that it could be played out in court.
But, when the DVD was inserted into a court computer, it would not load. With key evidence unable to be shared, the trial was put on hold.
“It was a comedy of errors,” says Leena Coward. “It was a farce.”
It was so farcical, in fact, that Ted Coward was allowed by the Crown to fetch his own laptop out of his car to see if it worked.
As bad luck would have it, however, it didn’t work either.
And so the trial was postponed — until today.
“It’s ridiculous,” says Leena Coward. “This is like a holiday to Chris Hammill. He gets a break from the routine. He gets a trip from Montreal to Kingston. He gets a change of scenery.
“And, if he gets convicted, what can he get? Nothing, really. There are no consecutive sentences in this country.
“Our only hope is that he gets convicted and his parole eligibility gets more years tacked on.”
The picture shown here today — the first ever published of Christopher Hammill — was taken from the 1997-1998 Huntsville High Year Book. It’s a class picture. He’s in Grade 10.
“He doesn’t look much different today,” says Leena Coward. “It’s a little heavier in the face, but that’s about it.
“His hair is still short, and he had stubble on his face. But it’s the same Chris Hammill.”
He was hauled into Kingston court in leg irons and shackles. He was wearing a baggy white T-shirt, and light-coloured pants.
“He saw us, but he didn’t acknowledge us,” Leena Coward says. “He looked like he was medicated. He was sort of glassy-eyed.
“He didn’t say a word the entire time,” she says.
“Except to say he was not guilty.
“But, what else would he say? He’s on holidays.”