Originally created 08/31/99

Woman gave suspect ride



Hours before William "Al" Hamilton disappeared and firefighters found his home ablaze, Rodney Richardson talked of killing him and disposing of his body so no one would ever find it, a witness testified Monday.

Mr. Richardson's Richmond County Superior Court trial began Monday. He has pleaded not guilty to charges of felony and malice murder, first-degree arson, armed robbery, burglary and theft by taking.

On Aug. 15, 1998, Augusta firefighters received an early morning call about a fire at the Elizabeth Road home that Mr. Hamilton rented. No one has seen Mr. Hamilton since he left his job at the downtown Discotheque club about two hours before firefighters arrived at the fire.

"Every day he was always talking about what he was going to do with Al, how he was mad at Al," testified Jason Neal, who was dating the sister of Mr. Richardson's ex-wife in August 1998. He talked of how he could kill Mr. Hamilton, and no one would ever find the body, Mr. Neal testified.

The night of Aug. 14 was no different. Mr. Richardson threatened to kill his ex-wife, Shelly Sharp, and Mr. Hamilton, who were dating, Mr. Neal said.

He also wanted Mr. Neal to get a baseball bat and help track Mr. Hamilton down, an offer he thought was just more talk, Mr. Neal testified.

About 11 that same night, Jackie Salgado was leaving her Augusta Manor apartment when she saw Ms. Sharp hurrying from the building with Mr. Richardson right behind her, Ms. Salgado said. Ms. Sharp's mother and sister lived in the same building, as did Mr. Neal, witnesses testified.

Mr. Richardson was upset that Ms. Sharp was returning to her Sardis home, Ms. Salgado testified. A short time later, he begged Ms. Salgado for a ride away from the apartment complex.

Mr. Richardson directed her down to the intersection of Phinizy and Old Louisville roads, she said. Saying his mother lived a few houses up, he insisted on getting out of the car near the intersection, Ms. Salgado testified.

She wouldn't learn until the next day that Mr. Hamilton lived a short distance from the spot where she left Mr. Richardson the night before, Ms. Salgado testified.

In his opening statement Monday, Assistant District Attorney Bobby Christine told the jury that Mr. Richardson broke into Mr. Hamilton's home and hid until the 47-year-old man returned.

"Al Hamilton was on his knees begging for his life and he is told by the defendant, `You can pray but there ain't going to be any miracles tonight,"' Mr. Christine said.

The evidence will show Mr. Richardson beat Mr. Hamilton to death, buried his body in a shallow grave and then returned to the south Augusta home and burned it down to cover up the crimes, Mr. Christine said.

But defense attorney Richard Ward told the jury in his opening statement the evidence will fall far short of proving Mr. Richardson guilty of the crimes he is charged with, and that the evidence wouldn't even prove that Mr. Hamilton, who was heavily in debt when he disappeared, was actually killed.

"What the evidence won't show is whether he died," Mr. Ward said.

Sandy Hodson covers courts for The Augusta Chronicle. She can be reached at (706) 823-3226 or shodson@augustachronicle.com.