Ex-convict heads to court for murder of retired U-M professor

Saturday, July 28, 2018 - 11:49am

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File Photo/Daily

Isom Hamilton, an ex-convict charged with the murder of Robert Sharp, a retired University of Michigan professor emeritus, underwent preliminary examination July 19 and has been scheduled for an August 30 pretrial hearing before Judge Darlene O'Brien.

Sharp, who was 76 years old, taught in the U-M chemistry department for 39 years before retiring in 2008. He held a doctorate from Case Western Reserve studying multidimensional and multiquantum NMR of paramagnetic systems, and completed his postdoc education at Oxford University.

Sharp was found dead in his home at 3200 Alpine Drive on Monday, June 11. Police believe Hamilton killed Sharp on June 10 or 11, attempting to cover his tracks after breaking in for the second time in a week and discovering Sharp was home.

The AAPD entered Sharp’s home after his neighbors expressed concern over Sharp’s failure to show up for a community meeting. Police found heavy smoke residue in the home as well as bloody drag marks leading to the basement, where they discovered Sharp’s body.

"I followed the blood trail down the stairs into the basement," said Ann Arbor police officer Craig Lee. "At the very bottom of the stairs, we did find the victim."

Pathologist Jeffrey Jentzen testified Sharp died after suffering 28 knife wounds. A one-inch piece of knife blade, which investigators think Hamilton took from Sharp’s kitchen, was found lodged in Sharp’s neck vertebra.

"They were a total of 28 cutting or sharp force injuries,” Jentzen said. "Five of the stab wounds were potentially lethal, with one in particular being into his neck, severing an artery.”

Sharp’s body had been covered in paper and clothes and burned. Police also found Sharp’s cat upstairs, dead from smoke inhalation. According to Jentzen, the murderer burned Sharp’s body after the victim was already dead, in what investigators believe was a cover-up.

At the preliminary examination, Judge Karen Quinlan Valvo of the 15th District Court claimed there is enough evidence connecting Hamilton to the murder to move the case to court. 

"There is a significant, though be it a circumstantial amount of evidence to say there is probable cause that Mr. Hamilton killed Mr. Sharp," Valvo said.

Police turned to 29-year-old Hamilton after linking him to multiple burglaries of Sharp’s home. Five days before the murder, Sharp’s laptop and wallet were stolen. He purchased a new one, which was stolen the day of his death.

Security footage from the Apple Store at Briarwood Mall shows Hamilton trying to have the data erased from both laptops. In addition, Chase Bank records reveal Hamilton attempted to transfer $2,000 from Sharp’s account to his own on June 10.

Bloody clothes and several items from Sharp’s home were discovered at Hamilton’s grandmother’s house in Ypsilanti, where Hamilton stayed. Moreover, GPS data link Hamilton to Sharp’s house, and gas station footage shows Hamilton carrying a laptop bag which David Sharp, son of the victim, said belonged to his father.

Still, Hamilton’s attorney, Steven Adams, claimed during the preliminary examination there is not yet enough evidence to prove Hamilton killed Sharp.

"All this is is a case of possession of stolen property at this point,” Adams said.

The U.S. Marshals assisted the AAPD in tracking down Hamilton, who did not have a recorded address. Police arrested him on June 27, intercepting him after he got off a parolee bus and walked to Liberty Plaza in downtown Ann Arbor. He was arraigned June 29 on five charges, including armed robbery, open murder, mutilation of a dead body and first-degree home invasion and arson.

Hamilton previously served four years in prison for assault of a police officer, arson and possession of a dangerous weapon, and earned parole in November 2017. Since his release, Hamilton had been working at a Wendy’s restaurant at 3100 Boardwalk Drive, near Sharp’s home. Police claim Hamilton quit his job prior to the burglaries and murder.

According to investigators, Sharp and Hamilton knew of one another before the incident. Every afternoon, Sharp would eat lunch at the Wendy’s where Hamilton worked, stopping to feed a nearby group of stray cats.

Hamilton is being held without bond at Washtenaw County Jail.

This is a developing story. Please check back at michigandaily.com for more information.