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INDEPENDENCE — Few updates were given during another court appearance of a man facing 16 charges in connection with three shooting deaths at a Christmas tree farm in Grayson County last January.
Frederick Hammer — along with his four attorneys — appeared in Grayson Circuit Court last Friday to update Judge Brett Geisler on their investigation.
Attorney Steve Milani — part of the Capital Murder Defense Team from Christiansburg — told Geisler that the team's investigator would be returning to Philadelphia and Delaware next week to continue with interviews.
Hammer has lived in both states, and the investigator is busy interviewing family members and former neighbors.
Milani also filed a report with the court listing expenses from the investigators' first trip, totaling $1,600. During the trip, investigators obtained more than 3,500 pages of court documents, and have yet to look through all of them, he said.
Hammer's 16 charges — five capital murder, one robbery, one statutory burglary with a weapon, three malicious wounding, four use of a firearm in commission of a felony and one possession of a firearm as a convicted felon — are in connection with the shooting deaths of Ronald Hudler, 73; his son Fred, 44; and farm worker John Miller, 24.
According to Milani, the defense team is trying to obtain a psychological evaluation of Hammer.
He added that the team would also need a forensic paint expert to assist them in interpreting the “complex test” results of paint taken from a gun safe at Ronald Hudler's house.
According to the prosecution, paint from Hammer's truck matched paint marks left on the safe that was allegedly broken in to.
Milani said he expected the investigators' next trip to cost around the same as the first.
He also pointed out that Hammer spent some time as a child in a home for children run by the Catholic Church. Hopes are to visit that home while the investigators are back up north, as well.
Milani told Geisler that the trips and interviews were part of the guidelines they had to follow in a capital murder case and that they are required to interview all of the defendant's siblings, as well as try to visit the actual locations where the defendant lived and contact the neighbors.
Hammer has lived in Philadelphia, Delaware, Florida and North Carolina.
Geisler noted that the investigation appeared to be progressing well and that $1,600 in a case of this magnitude was very reasonable.
He added that, as soon as the defense finishes its investigation, a date needs to be set for the trial.
The fatal shootings happened on Jan. 24, 2008, and Hammer was arrested within days.
Last November, Hammer agreed to forego his right to a speedy trial, taking away the mandate that it happen within one calendar year.
The defense had no motions to file on Friday, but the attorneys told Geisler they expected to have some ready when Hammer returns to court Jan. 28.
Grayson Commonwealth's Attorney Douglas Vaught did not file any motions Friday.