By Jon Schroeder
Killeen Daily Herald
GATESVILLE – Stephen Dean Hogankamp, 25, was sentenced Friday to 30 years in prison for the October 2006 murder of Kenneth Smith, 71, of Copperas Cove, a registered sex offender.
After the jury left the room, Smith's niece, speaking on behalf of her family and uncle, addressed Hogankamp. She said that the Kenneth Smith who had come out during the trial was not the one she knew and said he was a good man, married for more than 40 years and a teacher with many awards.
"I'm sure the bronze apple you bludgeoned him with was such an award," she said, adding that a family member might have shown less compassion and pushed for the death penalty had they known the brutality of the murder at the time.
The trial swung on three choices made by the jury. In the guilt-or-innocence phase of the trial, it convicted Hogankamp of the lesser included charge of murder, forgoing the original charge of capital murder, and essentially stating that the murder was not committed in the act of a robbery. "Not guilty" was also an option, but Hogankamp's attorney, Sandy Gately, argued instead for the lesser charge of murder.
In the punishment phase of the trial, jurors had two sentencing ranges to choose from, hinging on whether the murder was committed due to reasonable "sudden passion."
They decided that it was not, and they picked a 30-year sentence from a range of five to 99 years. If the crime had been committed under "sudden passion," the sentencing range would have been two to 20 years.
Hogankamp will likely be eligible for parole after serving half the length of his sentence, minus about a year already served in the Coryell County Jail.
Deliberations spanned two days and took about seven hours, with almost six hours coming during the punishment phase of the trial. Afterward, jurors said the trial was an emotional experience and a difficult one.
Gately, who will be representing Hogankamp for 30 more days to consider an appeal, said she doesn't know yet if the verdict will be appealed.
The jury decided along her arguments in the guilt-or-innocence portion of the trial but leaned toward the prosecution in the punishment phase.
"I can't do anything but thank (the jurors)," Gately said after Friday's sentencing.
"I think the jury worked very, very hard on this," she said.
District Attorney David Castillo was not available for comment.
The murder took place on Oct. 1, 2006, when Hogankamp was at Smith's house. Accounts vary of precisely why Hogankamp was there, but he went voluntarily into Smith's bedroom under a promise of payment for sex.
After the act began, Hogankamp asked Smith to stop, according to Hogankamp's videotaped confession to officers.
When Smith did not stop, according to the confession, Hogankamp picked up a bronze apple from a table in the bedroom and repeatedly hit Smith with it in the right temple. According to medical testimony, he hit Smith at least 10 times.
Leaving the house with Smith's wallet, in Smith's car, Hogankamp went to a gas station and bought gasoline, then returned to the house.
When Hogankamp returned, he saw that Smith had moved, and he cut Smith's throat three times with a knife from the kitchen. Hogankamp set the house on fire, pouring gasoline on the carpet in several rooms. Finding himself trapped inside or to let out smoke, he broke a window above the kitchen sink, cutting his hand to the bone.
He went to the garage, where blood was later found inside a second car. Dropping keys to the car inside the house, Hogankamp left Smith's house burning and caught a ride from three friends out of Copperas Cove.
The prosecution said that because of Hogankamp's return to the house and because of the number of times he hit Smith with the apple, the murder did not happen in "the heat of passion," a conclusion with which the jury ultimately agreed.
Contact Jon Schroeder at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7475.