On the morning of February 22, 2008, in a San Jose court room, Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Jerome Brock sentenced Tyrone Hamel to life in prison without the possibility of parole for the 1988 murder of prominent local attorney Gretchen Burford.
On February 26, 1988, Palo Alto attorney Gretchen Burford left her office and drove to an automatic teller machine (ATM) at the corner of California Avenue and El Camino Real in Palo Alto. After making a deposit, she returned to her car where she was abducted and forced to drive into Mountain View to another ATM. With her assailant in the passenger seat holding a knife to her, Ms. Burford made attempts to withdraw cash from a drive-up ATM. Ms. Burford tried to escape from the car but was stabbed on her right side. She then accelerated her car away from the ATM, where she crossed the northbound lanes of El Camino Real and crashed into a car headed southbound on El Camino Real. After the collision, Ms. Burford staggered out of the car, collapsed and died. She was able to tell witnesses at the scene, “He stabbed me,” before collapsing. Hamel ran from the scene and was not identified or caught. The knife was found nearby.
At the time of the murder, detectives worked at length to find the killer, but to no avail. The case was featured on the popular television series, “Unsolved Mysteries,” but still, a suspect could not be identified.
In 2005, the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office Cold Case Unit and the Mountain View Police Department’s Crimes Against Persons Unit worked together to re-investigate this case. Through DNA technology that was unavailable in 1988, MVPD detectives and DA investigators were able to link Tyrone Maurice Hamel to a baseball hat he left behind in the car.
In 2005, Hamel was serving multiple sentences in Texas, having been convicted of numerous robberies and sexual assaults. Hamel was extradited back to Santa Clara County to face murder charges. In 2007, a fingerprint left at the scene was also linked to Hamel. Earlier this year, Hamel pleaded guilty to first degree murder.