THE TRAGIC CONSEQUENCES OF INJUSTICE
THIS WEBSITE IS DEDICATED TO EXPOSING THE TRUE INJUSTICE SUFFERED BY LENWOOD "SKIP" HAMILTON
Hamilton arrives at Southern University, sight unseen, in the summer of 1981 and it's the Garden of Eden, though he proclaims "I'm ready to make it; my head's on straight." But temptations at the Baton Rouge campus are everywhere – more beautiful black women than he's ever seen at one place -- and he's the new big man on campus. Again, he dominates his position on the football field, rarely goes to classes or opens a book and is the life of the party. Jeff Fisher, a classmate of Hamilton's at Wilson, found himself in Baton Rouge in the fall of 1982 to watch an LSU game with Steve Mangino, another classmate and football teammate of Hamilton, and Steve Williams, a classmate at King's College in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. On a lark, they go across town to Southern in search of Hamilton. "We walked on campus and all eyes turned on us because we were the only white guys on campus," Fisher says with a laugh. "I'm thinking I'm not in the right place but Steve (Mangino) is pretty ballsy and when someone asks us if we're lost, he says 'We're here to see Skip Hamilton.' And the guy goes 'you're Skip's buddies ... I'll take you right to him. They walked us right to the dorm and when we got there, two light-skinned black girls walked out. He was so happy to see us. Then, I looked around his room and he didn't have any books. I said 'Skip, where are your books? He said, 'I don't got any books. I don't have to take classes." No one can live in a candy store 24/7 and survive. "I knew I had to slow down," Hamilton says. The good times are about to come to a crashing end and dramatically affect his life forever.
Every year Southern and Grambling State meet in a season-ending game called the "Bayou Classic" in the Louisiana Superdome. It is the preeminent game in black college football. Numerous NFL players have competed in the game, and Grambling is coached by the legendary Eddie Robinson. To win the Bayou Classic makes or breaks the season for the schools. "I learned quickly this was the most important game of the year," Hamilton says. Hamilton caps his two seasons at Southern with a win over Grambling in the 1982 game to complete an 8-3 season. The Southern players are let loose in New Orleans after the game. Hamilton parties with his buddies and heads for Bourbon Street. When it begins raining, Hamilton returns to the hotel. Not surprisingly, Hamilton meets up with a light-skinned black woman in the lobby of the team's hotel. It's the same woman, he finds out later, who made contact with two of his teammates earlier in the day and arranged for a rendezvous. "I knew I was going to have a good time that night and I told my girl (friend) to go home, that I was going out with the boys," Hamilton says. "That was my big mistake." Hamilton and the woman head upstairs to a room that includes four teammates ready for sexual pleasures. Their good times suddenly turn sour. The woman quickly leaves when she sees hickies arising on her neck. The next day, coaches approach Hamilton and his four teammates and say the woman has filed rape charges against them. Hamilton and his teammates admit there was sex with the woman but she was a willing participant. In fact, she allegedly is a prostitute who works for her husband out of their home in the suburb of New Iberia. Nevertheless, the "Southern Five" are jailed for 10 days on charges of aggravated rape until Southern head coach Otis Washington puts his house up as collateral to post the $50,000 bail that releases his players, though one of them, Hamilton, no longer has any football eligibility remaining.
Hamilton goes from the toast of the Southern campus to being shunned by almost everyone. He's ignored by classmates; he has no use to a football team because he's exhausted his eligibility. "I'd hear 'there goes that nigger who raped that girl,'" Hamilton says, emotion building in voice. He claims the local officers interrogated him knowing full well the alleged victim was lying, but a woman detective, he says, insists he is lying. "I had no reason to lie," Hamilton says. With no relatives to turn to and his support system in Easton more than 1,000 miles away, Hamilton possesses no resources and few advisors to prepare for his upcoming case. He believes the original court appointed attorney sells them out. A grand jury decides there's enough evidence to bring a case to trial in late May, which is then postponed to August 1983. "Our lawyer didn't even show up when we testified for the grand jury," Hamilton says. "We were indicted by our own testimony."
Hamilton obtains a tryout with Montreal of the Canadian Football League in early spring of 1983 and impresses the scout. He is set to sign a contract that would pay him $55,000 for the first year and $60,000 for the second year. When the team discovers Hamilton is awaiting trial on rape charges it withdraws the offer. Pro scouts were giving Hamilton "positive appraisals" during the 1982 season according to Southern sports information director Bennie Thomas, but he then added, "Who would be foolhardy to draft someone who may be incarcerated?" NFL scouts who were tracking Hamilton during his final season at Southern stop calling. "I was drinking more than ever; I was even thinking of suicide," Hamilton says. Still, Hamilton maintains his innocence and believes his name will be cleared at the trial. As the oldest of the Southern Five, Hamilton serves as a mentor to the other four and keeps up their spirits. ""You're the strong one, Skip,' they'd tell me," Hamilton says.
The trial for the Southern Five begins in August 1983 and lasts eight days. It's a time when Hamilton believes he would've been in an NFL training camp, possibly with the Pittsburgh Steelers, vying for a position as a defensive tackle. "The Steelers were on me hard, I'm telling you," Hamilton insists. Instead, he's in a courtroom with his future in the hands of a New Orleans jury. One positive is the Southern Five has new legal representation in Peter Castano and John Umsworth, though they may be too late to the case to make a difference at this point. Hamilton refuses to a plea deal because he insists he is innocent and has nothing to hide. Hamilton, honest to a fault, admits the group had sex with the woman but it was consensual. The jury doesn't see it that way; they believe the alleged victim's story and Hamilton is fingered as the ring leader. When the verdict is read after 16 hours of jury deliberation, two players are acquitted, two are granted retrials when verdicts can't be reached, and Hamilton is found guilty of attempted forcible rape and immediately sent to prison without bail by Judge Dennis Waldron. For four months, 16 days, Hamilton is incarcerated at Orleans Parish Prison – the government's version of the Michigan pump house and Philadelphia row home basement horrors that Hamilton thought were long in his past. "The only thing worse than this was death," Hamilton says. "I was in there with murderers, rapists, one guy was a cannibal ... he ate his roommate and even ate his dog!"
Day by day, Hamilton tries to survive life in jail. Mike Danjczek flies down from Pennsylvania to visit Hamilton in jail but can get no farther than the lobby of the prison. "I could hear his voice but they wouldn't let him see me," Hamilton says. "I don't know why. Maybe they couldn't figure out why a white guy wanted to help a black guy." Hamilton's lawyers continue to work on his case. Miraculously, one of the prison guards happened to be on the hotel floor the night Hamilton and the Southern players were frolicking with the accuser. The prison guard admits he was with the cousin of the accused, who admitted lying on the stand to support her cousin's case. "When I walked down the hallway at the hotel with that girl, he looked out at his door at us; he was with her cousin that night," Hamilton says. "He thought we got off on the charges, but when he found out we didn't he came forth and told his story. He said to me when I was in prison, 'Don't you remember me looking at you? I told him, 'you got to tell them what happened.'" When it's revealed the cousin was lying and the prosecution's case is crumbling, Hamilton is freed on $100,000 bail on December 23, 1983, but not after serving four months, 16 days in Orleans Parish Prison. The exact length of the sentence remains etched in Hamilton's mind as much as his wedding date and his childrens' birthdays. In January, 1984, Hamilton is granted a new trial for March, but before the trial comes to court, the prosecution withdraws its charges against Hamilton in late February and he is a free man. Hamilton still is enough of a pro prospect that on the day he is released from prison, the New Orleans Breakers of the United States Football League are in a contact to arrange for a tryout, and on the day in March that charges were dropped Hamilton is lining up a workout session for the Winnipeg Jets of the Canadian Football League. "I've been down all my life, but if you have a strong mind you can put it all behind you and go on," Hamilton tells a New Orleans area reporter the day the charges are dropped.