TYLER, Texas (KETK) – A Tyler man was sentenced to life in prison for a boat crash that killed a teenage boy in 2019 after the jury deliberated nearly four hours.

33-year-old Jeffrey Hampton will have to serve 30 years before he’s even eligible for parole under Texas law. He already has three years of time served awaiting trial so he will be behind bars until at least 2049.

The crash killed 14-year-old Roberto “Carolitos” Hernandez, who died protecting his sister from the oncoming boat.

When the verdict was announced, Hampton’s mother let out a loud cry while the Hernandez family quietly wept.

In closing arguments, prosecutors Noah Coltman and Elizabeth Anderson told the jury of the young life that was stolen from his family and how Roberto’s death made them lose their own faith.

“He destroyed that dock. He destroyed Carlito’s life. And he never, ever, let off that throttle.”

Elizabeth Anderson, Smith County Prosecutor

“We’re seeking justice for what happened to this family,” Coltmad added. “For what he stole! A son to Judith, a brother to Alexa.”

Coltman also said that Roberto died “like a man” in how he protected his 2-year-old sister from the boat.

For the defense, Mishae Boren and Bobby Mims said they trusted the jury to do what they believed was right and that Hampton had accepted responsibility for the crash.

Mims told the jury of how he initially didn’t want to take the case after his office was contacted, but how his mind was changed after meeting Hampton in jail.

“I’ve defended people who have done horrible things. But it was the fine young man who was taken from us that made it hard… [Roberto’s] now with the Lord in Heaven…Yeah I didn’t want the case. But 5 minutes after meeting [Hampton] in jail, my mind had changed. I saw a man who was remorseful, who wanted forgiveness.”

Bobby Mims, Defense attorney for Jeffrey Hampton

Hampton will be returned to the Smith County jail until a prison unit can be found for him somewhere in Texas.

2:00 p.m.

Jury sentences Jeffrey Hampton to life in prison for the death of Roberto Carlos Hernandez. He was found to have used the boat as a deadly weapon so he must serve 30 years of his sentence before possible parole. He has already spent nearly three years awaiting trial so he will be first eligible for parole in 2049.

Hampton’s mother let out a yell when it was read and many members of the Hernandez family were also weeping.

1:50 p.m.

A verdict was reached after just under four hours of deliberations.

11:55 a.m.

Two hours have passed since deliberations started and the jury has not yet returned a verdict.

9:53 a.m.

9:49 a.m.

ADA Coltman: “We are all poorer for the defendant’s action. But I think most importantly, the sentence in this case has to honor the sacrifice that Carlos made with his dying breath. It is no accident [his little sister] is still here today. He died a man…He sacrificed himself for his sister.””

9:42 a.m.

“I thank you for your service… We have tried our best to bring you what we have so you can make your decision.”

ADA Noah Coltman will give the State’s rebuttal. He opens by saying:

“Those murderers Mr. Mims was talking about. They get life without parole. In this case, Mr. Hampton has an opportunity for parole. And that’s more opportunity than he ever gave Roberto.”

“We’re not seeking revenge,” Coltman counters. “We’re seeking justice for what happened to this family. For what he stole! A son to Judith, a brother to Alexa.”

Coltman is fired up right now, his voice is significantly raised.

9:38 a.m.

Mims goes back to why he changed his mind on taking the case after meeting Hampton in jail the first time.

“Yeah I didn’t want the case. But 5 minutes after meeting him in jail, my mind had changed. I saw a man who was remorseful, who wanted forgiveness.”

9:33 a.m.

9:29 a.m.

Bobbie Mims admits to the jury that when he was first offered the case, he didn’t want it.

“I’ve defended people who have done horrible things. But it was the fine young man who was taken from us that made it hard… He’s now with the Lord in Heaven.”

9:25 a.m.

Boren: “We’re not asking you for a certain number or what justice demands. You are the 12 members of our community who will decide that… We’re placing him in your hands and know you’ll do the right thing.”

She closes by saying, “Seek justice, not revenge.” But now Bobbie Mims, Hampton’s other defense attorney, will continue.

9:20 a.m.

Boren said that Hampton during the police interview he had around 3:30 a.m. he couldn’t believe that a child had been killed from the wreck. She said his own testimony was meant to “give context.”

9:12 a.m.

ADA Anderson is done after 18 minutes.

Mishae Boren will give the defense closing argument.

“This trial has been very emotional. We understand the pain of the Bermejo and Hernandez families.”

Boren opens with the testimony of other people on the boat. Jessica Chapman, who was next to Hampton, said they thought they had cleared the dock and did not know there were children in the water.

9:09 a.m.

9:05 a.m.

ADA Anderson: “He destroyed that dock. He destroyed Carlito’s life. And he never, ever, let off that throttle.”

9:02 a.m.

Anderson: “Why is a life sentence the appropriate sentence? He recklessly committed a crime of manslaughter. This was not an accident… We don’t prosecute people for accidents. We prosecute them for crimes.”

8:58 a.m.

Anderson explaining to the jury how Hampton’s parole eligibility works if they find he used the boat as a deadly weapon.

8:53 a.m.

ADA Anderson: “You’ve heard some excruciating evidence about his death. Seen some gruesome photos.”

8:48 a.m.

8:45 a.m.

The jury is instructed they must decide first if Hampton used the boat as a deadly weapon before setting a sentence. If they find he did, by Texas law he has to serve at least half of his assigned sentence before being eligible for parole.

8:30 a.m.

Judge Jackson begins the morning by reading the Jury Charge, which are the instructions they must follow during deliberations.

This usually takes about 10-15 minutes. Afterward, closing arguments will begin. The prosecution goes first, followed by the defense and then a rebutal from the prosecution.

Several members of the Hernandez family are present in the courtroom wearing T-shirts that honor Roberto’s life. Most contain pictures of him with his family.

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Preview

TYLER, Texas (KETK) – A Smith County jury will hear closing arguments Thursday morning before deciding the fate of a Tyler man who pleaded guilty to manslaughter for a boat crash on Lake Palestine in 2019.

The crash killed 14-year-old Roberto Hernandez, who was killed instantly after being struck by the boat’s propellors in the head. His family described him as a “protector” with a big heart who wanted to open his own animal shelter when he grew up.

33-year-old Jeffrey Hampton admitted to the manslaughter charge last week. Normally, the charge carries a 20-year maximum sentence, but the range of punishment is increased up to 99 years due to his history of numerous convictions.

Prosecutors have asked the jury to sentence Hampton to life in prison while defense attorneys have not named a specific number of years, rather asking the jury to do what they believe is right.

On Wednesday, Roberto’s mother Judith Hernandez took the stand and gave tearful testimony on how her son’s tragic death ruined her life.

“I saw my son lying face down in the water. The side of his head was gone… I felt like I was dreaming. All I wanted to do was wake up…. This can’t be happening.”

Judith Hernandez

Hampton’s mother, cousin and ex-wife told the jury of his rough childhood, living with an addict father and uncle. They asked the jury for mercy on a man they described as a man who was “good at heart” but made many bad decisions the day of the crash.

Hampton himself took the stand in his own defense and asked the Hernandez family for forgiveness.

“I would just ask them to find it in their hearts to forgive me so they can have peace…I’m sorry. I’m so sorry,” he said.