In the early morning of September 20, 2008, illegal alien employee Valentino Vasquez Miranda, 19, used his master key card to open the door of the West Knoxville Days Inn motel room that Jennifer Lee Hampton, 21, was staying in.
Miranda then raped and strangled to death the former home-coming queen. About a week later, a fisherman found her nude body floating in Melton Hill Lake, fewer than 10 miles from the motel.
Assistant District Attorney Kevin Allen said that the attack on Hampton was a violent one, with guests in an adjoining room reporting a crash against her wall severe enough to shake items in their room. Hampton fought for her life, he said, evidenced by bits of Miranda's flesh under her fingernails.
Hampton, a native of Waterloo, AL, planned to enter nursing school and had come to Knoxville to help train new workers for the opening of Mama Blue's Buffet restaurant.
Miranda and his girlfriend, Rosa Rodriguez Hernandez, lived and worked at the motel as housekeepers.
Miranda was arrested a few days after the murder and charged with first-degree murder, felony murder, aggravated burglary, especially aggravated kidnapping, aggravated rape and abuse of a corpse. ICE put a hold on Miranda after his arrest.
The arrest warrant didn’t list a motive for Hampton's killing but for her family, no explanation would be enough. "Nobody can understand how any human being can commit such a horrendous act against such a beautiful, caring young lady," said the family's lawyer.
The lead KPD investigator and other officers worked day and night on the case since the morning Hampton's co-workers reported her missing. "To say hundreds of hours would not be unreasonable when you consider all the efforts and resources that went into the investigation," said Price, the deputy chief.
Miranda confessed to raping and killing Hampton and was offered a plea deal approved by Judge Bob McGee. Under the terms of the agreement, Miranda will escape the death penalty. The Knoxville News Sentinel reported that Miranda, a 20-year-old Mexican who is in the U.S. illegally and does not speak English, agreed to the deal. Miranda was sentenced to life with the possibility of parole after a mandatory 51-year prison term.
Hampton’s family sued the hotel chain for $100 million. The suit against the Days Inn alleges that the hotel hired illegal immigrants and gave them master keys to guests' rooms.
The lawsuit calls the practice of providing master keys to illegal immigrants "reckless, outrageous and grossly negligent" and states that another attack five months earlier provided ample reason to restrict distribution of the master keys.
The hotel's provision of "master keys to its employees for unlimited use and without any measures for patron safety, which includes, but is not limited to, providing said keys to illegal immigrants without any background investigations, (was) a direct and proximate cause of the burglary into Jennifer Hampton's room and the brutal assault, torture, rape, sodomy, murder, and disposal of her body," the lawsuit states.
Attorney Eddie Daniel already won a civil settlement on behalf of the Hampton family from the Days Inn. The terms have been kept under wraps.
Jennifer is survived by her mother, Cynthia Senn; stepfather, Tim Senn; sister, Chrissy Behel; twin sister, Michelle Hampton; sister, Jessica Peeden; sister, Amanda May; and great-grandmother, Lenola
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