He said that at the time of the shooting he had been in New Haven, meeting with two women who worked at his half brother’s talent agency—he was trying to help arrange auditions for their acts at the Apollo Theatre.The District Attorney’s office had only one supposed eyewitness: Cash’s girlfriend, Jewel Smith, a twenty-two-year-old mother of two, who had a number of arrests for shoplifting and was on parole.
He and his half brother came up with the idea of opening a hair salon in New Haven, with the help of a beautician they knew. He had been shot nine times, and someone at the scene named Hamilton as the killer.
Two weeks before the opening, in March of 1991, police officers arrived at the salon, handcuffed Hamilton, and drove him to a local station house. The detective, Louis Scarcella, then thirty-nine, reminded Hamilton of the actor Joe Pesci, as he swaggered about the room, brandishing a cigar.
But in high school he’d begun skipping classes and getting into trouble.
At fifteen, he was charged with robbery and sentenced to sixty days in jail.
“This way, he could get his answer and keep it moving.” Prisoners also needed general legal advice, about divorce, power of attorney, paternity, child support.
“You would learn so much at the counter,” Hamilton said.In state prisons, jailhouse lawyers typically lack law degrees—some never finish high school—but New York does guarantee access to a law library, which is run by inmate clerks.The older prisoners in the Clinton law library gave Hamilton a job as a “counterman.” At the time, Clinton housed about twenty-five hundred prisoners, and there was almost always a line at the library counter.To escape the chaos, Hamilton spent time in New Haven with an older half brother, who ran a talent agency there.But, six months after his release, Hamilton crossed the state line without his parole officer’s permission, and was sent back to prison for a year.Hamilton’s legal education began in 1983, when he was seventeen and in the jail for teen-age boys on Rikers Island.