Hamilton man imprisoned on drug counts, but murder charge dropped

Jamell Cavanaugh
Jamell Cavanaugh

Jamell Cavanaugh was sentenced to 11 years in prison Thursday for drug possession, but he no longer faces a murder charge.

In May, the 34-year-old Hamilton man was indicted by a Butler County grand jury for the shooting death of Billy Joe Sickler on Dec. 16. Sickler, 29, was shot and killed outside his East Avenue home, possibly during a robbery attempt.

But in a rare legal move, the murder charge was dismissed with prejudice by the prosecution in September. That means Cavanaugh can never be charged again with the murder of Sickle.

A drug investigation by Hamilton police led to charges against Cavanaugh of possession of cocaine, possession of heroin and illegal use or possession of drug paraphernalia that occurred on April 24 - before the fatal shooting, according to court documents.

Cavanaugh’s attorney, Lawrence Hawkins III, said his client was adamant he did not commit the homicide and was not willing to plead to the charge.

Hawkins said based on the evidence he saw - a blurry video and a statement from woman who was “involved sex trade for money and drugs” - he felt good about going to trial and winning.

The witness gave two different statements, Hawkins said, and only identified Cavanaugh from a video the second time as someone running from the scene.

“The video is a blurry mess,” Hawkins said. “It could be me, it could be Brad Burress (an assistant prosecutor), it could be anybody.”

Hawkins said despite searching Cavanaugh’s residence, police were unable to find any physical evidence tying him to the homicide.

On Sept. 14, prosecutors agreed to dismiss the murder charge along with having weapons under disability, against Cavanaugh. He pleaded guilty to possession of cocaine and heroin.

Hawkins said the drug charges “were more challenging to defend.”

Butler County Prosecutor Michael Gmoser, who did not personally handle the case, said the role of a grand jury is to find probable cause, and it is up to the prosecutor to prove a case beyond a reasonable doubt.

“That was not going to happen in this case,” Gmoser said. He added the case was never going to get any better.

The prosecutor agreed the video of the suspect was poor and was “not about to be corroborated by a very questionable witness.”

“But we have him off the streets for 11 years in exchange for nullying a case we could not prove,” Gmoser said.