Going Down in Downtown

On Saturday, Raymond Hammell was mentioned in The Dallas Morning News, just not by name. He was not dead even a day, but already he was a statistic: a 56-year-old man "stabbed multiple times Friday evening in a skywalk in the 2000 block of Bryan Street. He later died at Baylor University Medical Center." That's what Dave Levinthal wrote of Hammell's murder, which was included several paragraphs down in a round-up of tales involving violent incidents taking place downtown. The story was essentially about how crime's bad for business, and how myriad troubling incidents downtown in recent months--the gang-related shooting a week ago outside El Angel on North Harwood that left two dead; the 11 people getting popped outside Thomas & Leggitt Tavern on Main; several incidents around Club Blue and in Deep Ellum--could harm economic development downtown. After all, writes Levinthal, "the shootings come at a time when Dallas government is pouring tens of millions of dollars of cash and other resources into downtown's redevelopment as a residential neighborhood bolstered by a growing number of restaurant and retail offerings."

Hammell wasn't identified till yesterday's paper, and his death received a brief mention in the regional round-up section, beneath the 15-year-old boy from Arlington killed in a car crash (he was the passenger in a vehicle involved in a high-speed race) and the Fort Worth woman who died in a murder-suicide. It said only this:

"Police identified the Dallas man stabbed to death on a downtown skywalk Friday night. Raymond Hammell, 56, was found at 6:37 p.m. with two stab wounds in the chest in the 2000 block of Bryan Street. He later died at Baylor University Medical Center. Police said they had no leads in the slaying. Anyone with information can call police at 214-671-4847."

Something about all of this didn't seem quite right. Hammell did not die in a parking lot at 3 in the morning. He was not shot by gangbangers. He was not coming out of a club. He was not listening to Lil' John. He was killed in a heavily trafficked area near One Dallas Centre, off Bryan and North Harwood streets. That's mere feet away from Bryan Tower and KPMG Centre. It's three blocks away from the Dallas Museum of Art and the Arts District. It wasn't exactly the middle of nowhere in the middle of night. So this morning, I picked up the phone and made some calls. What I found out about Raymond Hammell, and the man who allegedly killed him, are after the jump. --Robert Wilonsky

Sergeant Gil Cerda, a DPD spokesman, says police have made an arrest: Yesterday, Fort Worth officers arrested James Edward Stevens, 32, for Hammell's murder. Cerda could offer no more information about Stevens or his arrest, but Michelle Lyons at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice in Huntsville reveals Stevens has an extensive criminal history: During the last 12 years, Stevens has been convicted of everything from aggravated assault to burglarizing a building to stealing a car, all of which got him time in the Texas prison system. And in April 2004 he was sentenced to state prison on a forgery conviction, for which he served a year-long sentence before being released March 3, 2005. (Stevens forged a check, according to the Dallas County District Attorney's office.)

And who was Raymond Thomas Hammell? Turns out he too served extensive time in Texas prisons--most recently, for the same crime for which Stevens was convicted, forgery. In January 1993, he was sentenced in Dallas County to 25 years for the crime--a huge amount of time, acknowledge officials with TDCJ and the district attorney's office, but a sentence that also reflected Hammell's laundry list of felony and misdemeanor convictions dating back to the 1980s. According to state and county criminal records, Hammell has been convicted of everything from criminal trespass to several burglaries (of homes, cars and businesses) to retaliation, which usually involves beating up someone who said you beat them up. Hammell was paroled August 6, 2001; there is no record of his having been arrested after that nor any indication of what he's been doing the last five years leading up to his death in a downtown skywalk. Maybe he'd straightened up. Maybe he was going home to his Bruton Road apartment after a hard day's work. Maybe not.

So was this a random crime in downtown, or was this something else between two ex-cons with similar criminal records? Lyons at TDCJ says there's no evidence that Hammell and Stevens knew each other; though they served time on the same charge, and both men served time in the same prison units, they never crossed paths. "It seems suspect," Lyons says. "They were in for the same charge in the same time frame, and they've been in some of the same units, just not at the same time." And their forgery convictions in Dallas County involved separate victims.

The Dallas homicide detective investigating the case doesn't work till Wednesday, so he couldn't be reached for comment. But here's how Stevens ended up in Dallas County jail, according to the Fort Worth police: At 3:30 a.m. Sunday, they got a call from a pay phone outside a 7-Eleven near the intersection of South Beach and Lancaster, where, according to a police report, Stevens walked in wearing nothing more than a pair of blue shorts and carrying a blue bag. Allegedly, he "mumbled" something about wanting to kill a woman and burn down a nearby abandoned nursing home. The report also quotes Stevens as bragging that he'd already killed someone else. After he left, someone at the convenience store phoned in the tip, which led two FWPD officers to the nursing home. There, officers found Stevens passed out on a bare mattress; there was also a woman, referred to as "unrelated."

Fort Worth officers arrested Stevens for occupying an abandoned structure, which is a violation of city ordinances. While running his ID, Fort Worth officers discovered Dallas had listed him as a murder suspect for the Friday-afternoon stabbing. FWPD officers transferred him to Dallas' homicide unit, and Dallas officers went to Fort Worth to check out the scene at the nursing home to see whether Stevens had left behind any evidence. Rachel Raya, the spokeswoman in the district attorney's office, says Stevens' bond has been set at $200,000. He's now resting in the jail. Hammell's probably in the morgue.