The last time Susan Hamlin saw her now ex-husband Richard Hamlin a free man was just before his February 2004 arrest.
The criminal defense attorney from El Dorado Hills had called police to report a threat on his life, but it was he who ended up in handcuffs after an investigation revealed he had abused his wife and children for years. In January 2006 a jury found the then-45-year-old man guilty of torture and corporal injury to a spouse.
A sentence of seven years to life in prison closed the case — but now fresh wounds are opened for Susan, 55, and her four children. Richard’s first parole hearing is scheduled for Dec. 5 at Pleasant Valley State Prison in Coalinga.
“The past seven years have been great. He’s been out of our lives.” said Susan in her El Dorado Hills home. “We haven’t been living these last seven years in fear.”
And the family wants to keep it that way, strongly opposing parole for the man who they call a master manipulator.
“He’ll say whatever he can to get out of prison,” said daughter Clare Hamlin. The 16-year-old called her father “a fake person” who will try to tell the parole board he’s found Christianity “to get what he wants.”
“He still has the crazy delusions that he had before,” Susan said, pointing to Richard’s purported continued investigation into a Satanic cult linked to Starbucks, one of many angles used in his defense at trial. When he beat Susan, she said her husband of 20 years thought “he was beating the demons inside me.”
“He’s very obsessed,” Clare added. “I just think he’s so far gone he can’t come back to reality.”
Susan last saw Richard at his sentencing hearing in January 2006. Since that time he has attempted to reach out to his family, against a court order and their wishes.
Son Alec, now 19, said a letter sent to him states, “just that he loves me and he’s going to get me out of this predicament.” He also said Richard sent a girlfriend to his job to talk to him. In a letter Richard wrote to Susan she said, “He made a quick pass at an apology but it’s still all about him.
“He doesn’t take responsibility for anything,” Susan added. “He thinks the rules don’t apply to him.”
Despite the postmarked reminders of the past, the family has fought to move on. Susan, Alec, Clare and Jenn, 14, were diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and sought therapy. Son Ryan, 24, joined the Army four years ago.
The family moved to a new home but the new address couldn’t wipe away all the pain.
“I would get flashbacks,” Susan said. “I was at work one day and saw my old mailman walk by. I just started shaking.”
Alec remembers panicking at the sound of the opening garage door — a sound that meant Dad was home. “We were always afraid of my dad. It’s not just like he woke up one morning and snapped,” explained Alec, who also has trouble sleeping.
“Even if we didn’t do anything, if we just sat there, he would find an excuse,” Clare said of the abuse. She said she still suffers from “massive anxiety attacks.”
The youngest, Jenn, has such high anxiety that she can no longer attend school and said she has nightmares and feels “constantly afraid.” Jenn, Clare and Susan continue to work with a therapist. Alec has opted out, saying, “Honestly, I’m OK.”
Susan said money problems probably contributed to Richard’s escalating violent behavior but he’d always been very controlling. “I spent a lot of time trying to make sense of it, but then I realized some things just don’t make sense,” she said.
Alec and Ryan, who was recently discharged from the Army, will join their mother at the parole board hearing. Clare and Jenn, because they are minors, cannot be in the room but they will watch from another area. Both have written letters asking that their father remain in jail.
The idea of seeing their dad again is especially hard for the girls, who are still working through new issues Susan said were revealed during therapy. Susan has gone to the El Dorado County Sheriff’s Department with this information and the District Attorney’s Office is investigating to determine whether new charges will be filed against Richard Hamlin.
While talking about their traumatic past and these new allegations the family stayed relaxed, even joking with one another. These last seven years have been about healing, Susan said.
“It’s nothing to be ashamed about,” Clare said of the past. “The more you talk about it the more you heal.”
Looking proudly at her children, Susan said the family has made good progress but she knows different issues will arise throughout her children’s lives as they get married and have their own children. Still, she confidently said, “My goal is to get these kids launched into healthy adulthood.”
To do that, she added, they need to keep Richard Hamlin in prison.
Alec said he’s not nervous about seeing his father again. “I haven’t been afraid of my dad since (his arrest),” he said.
“It’s not like a big ‘f*** you’ at the parole hearing,” he added. “I forgive him but I still want him to stay in prison.”
If paroled, the family members said they have no doubt Richard will try to work his way back into their lives, something they all fear.
“We don’t have a plan … if he were to get out,” Susan said. “We’re doing everything we can do to persuade the parole board not to release him.”
Attorneys Nina Salarno Ashford and Laura Strasser are helping in that effort, collecting letters opposing Richard’s release on behalf of the family.
“We would like him to stay in custody as long as possible,” Susan said, adding that the longer the interval between parole hearings the better.
Staying confident that the family will get its wish, Alec said. “I know he’s not going to get out.”