– Port St. Lucie 17-year-old held in parents’ deaths ineligible for death penalty (TCPAlm, July 19, 2011):
PORT ST. LUCIE — Because of his age, 17-year-old Tyler Hadley will not face the death penalty if he’s convicted in the brutal slaying of his parents, officials with the State Attorney’s Office confirmed Tuesday.
If he’s eventually convicted of first-degree murder — the charges prosecutors intend to seek from a St. Lucie County grand jury — Hadley could be ordered to serve a maximum penalty of life in prison.
Hadley, the Port St. Lucie teen accused of posting an invitation to a party on Facebook, then killing his parents with a hammer, made his first appearance before a judge Tuesday morning. Hadley was wearing a sleeveless black jail uniform as he appeared via video conference from the St. Lucie County Jail in front of a judge at the St. Lucie County Courthouse.
Speaking later Tuesday from the Medical Examiner’s Office in Fort Pierce as officials performed autopsies on victims Blake, 54, and Mary Jo Hadley, 47, Chief Assistant State Attorney Tom Bakkedahl said the state’s ultimate punishment can’t be considered against the couple’s son because several years ago the U.S. Supreme Court determined it would be cruel and unusual to subject minors to the death penalty.
“It’s simply off the table; it’s not a viable option,” Bakkedahl said. “Despite the fact that the case may otherwise in all respects warrant the death penalty, we are prohibited from seeking it as a result of (Hadley) being approximately six-months short of his 18th birthday.”
In the next month, he said prosecutors will seek indictments for two counts of first-degree murder against Hadley, who authorities say killed his parents on Saturday — hours before he hosted a party attended by up to 60 youths.
Police discovered the victims in their locked bedroom in the 300 block of Northeast Granduer Avenue on Sunday morning.
State law required Hadley to be initially arrested as a juvenile, and he was held on police charges of 1st-degree murder. But Monday he was charged formally by prosecutors as an adult on two counts of 2nd-degree murder with a weapon — the highest offense possible until the case is presented to a grand jury. Hadley was also appointed a public defender and was ordered held on no bond at the St. Lucie County jail.
A defendant in Florida can be charged with first-degree murder only via an indictment returned by a grand jury, which Bakkedahl predicted would occur in Hadley’s case.
“We certainly think that based on the evidence that’s been gathered at this point, there’s more than sufficient evidence to support those charges,” he said. “I think it’s going to be a clear first-degree murder case. The only difference between this and any other first-degree murder case is as a result of his age, (Hadley) does not face the prospect of the death penalty.”
Meanwhile, medical examiners on Tuesday were conducting autopsies on the victims, and Bakkedahl said officials from the State Attorney’s Office will observe.
“This is not your standard gunshot wound death, where if you’ve seen one you’ve seen them all,” he said. “It gives us some insight into what transpired.”
Asked what he believed happened when the Hadley couple were killed, Bakkedahl said, “it would be difficult for me to speculate, but I mean, it’s just horrific, is all I can say.
“When I say ‘transpired,’ ” he added, “I don’t mean what the motive is, or exactly how it happened. But in terms of where the injuries inflicted, and how they were inflicted and timing, you get some kind of a sense when you are at the autopsy that you do not get from photographs.”
The injuries suffered by the two victims, Bakkedahl said, suggest the killings were premeditated or committed during an angry rage.
“In my personal opinion, anytime you have a murder, you have some degree or rage, so that is really meaningless to me, but it’s certainly significant,” he said. “I mean it’s just incredible, the injuries.”
Port St. Lucie police officials have accused Hadley of using a 22-inch framing hammer — typically used for framing wooden houses — to strike his parents in the head and torso. Then, they said, he used books, files and towels to cover their bodies.
The parents’ bodies were found in their locked bedroom in the 300 block of Northeast Granduer Avenue on Sunday morning. Police on the scene wrote in their report that they found the bodies by removing rubble until they could see their limbs. They first found “the leg of a male covered … and cold to the touch.’’ They dug more, “uncovering an arm to a second person.”
Early Sunday morning, Port St. Lucie police had received an anonymous tip indicating a 17-year-old might have killed his parents and the bodies had been in the home during a party attended by as many as 60 people. Police went to the home about 4:20 a.m. Sunday.
Media focus on Port St. Lucie
The case has been featured prominently by national and international media — Tuesday morning network news shows had reports with video from Port St. Lucie. The TODAY show with Matt Lauer had a reporter speaking live in front of the Hadleys’ Granduer Avenue home.
People magazine had the Port St. Lucie killings among its top stories on its website. The story was the second-most-read item on NYDailyNews.com Tuesday morning. The Daily Mail of London played the story prominently on the Web, with photos and video.
“It was a merciless killing. It was brutal and the Facebook invitation — a party to have your friends and 40 to 60 people come over — I think speaks for itself,” Port St. Lucie police Capt. Don Kryak said, standing at the scene Monday. “The blunt force trauma to the head and torso with a 22-inch framing hammer can effect a considerable amount of injury.”
Police believe Tyler Hadley acted alone, but officials don’t know a motive. The former St. Lucie West Centennial High School student made no incriminating statements.
Kryak said the Facebook party invitation was posted about 1:15 p.m. or 1:30 p.m. Saturday — before the homicides occurred. Investigators suspect Tyler Hadley’s mother was killed first, and then his father, and that the slayings happened outside the master bedroom door of the single-story home in the 300 block of Northeast Granduer Avenue.
When police arrived, Tyler Hadley greeted them.
“He was nervous … just very nervous when we arrived to do the welfare check,” Kryak said. “He just said that his parents were out of town.”
Dad a six-foot-four gentle giant
Blake Hadley was an employee of Florida Power & Light Co. and worked at the St. Lucie Nuclear Plant, according to Doug Andrews, FPL spokesman.
“Our prayers are with the Hadley family at this time,” Andrews said.
Maurice Hadley of Stuart, Blake Hadley’s father, said his son — who he described as a gentle giant at 6 feet, 4 inches tall and 300 pounds — was weeks away from celebrating 30 years of employment with FPL.
“He enjoyed his job,” Maurice Hadley said. “He was a watch engineer.”
Mark Ankrom, Blake Hadley’s nephew, said, “He was a good man, a very good man. Not a mean bone in his body and I just can’t believe something like this would happen.”
Mary Jo Hadley worked 24 years as an elementary school teacher with the St. Lucie County School District, with her last six years being at Village Green Environmental Studies School. Maurice Hadley described her as “the best daughter-in-law you could have.”
“The St. Lucie County School District family is deeply saddened at the tragic loss of one of our valued colleagues,” the district said in an emailed statement. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the family.”
Kryak said an older brother of Tyler Hadley moved out a couple of months ago.
The Hadleys had attended a family reunion in Georgia earlier this month, Maurice Hadley said.
“It was a time for us to enjoy family from Indiana, Minnesota and Florida,” he said. “I didn’t see any indication there were any problems between Tyler and his parents. We’re still in disbelief and we’re still waiting to learn more.”
The couple lived in their residence on Northeast Granduer Avenue for at least the past 10 years.
‘Kids are always nice’
“I’ve known Mary Jo since she was in high school in Fort Lauderdale. They are a nice family. The kids are always nice. They used to come to our house trick-or-treating and they always called me Miss Charlie,” said Charlene Moses, a family friend.
The relationship Tyler Hadley had with his parents and the family dynamics were unclear.
“That’s certainly something we want to dive into a little bit more and get a better understanding of what actually takes place in the house,” Kryak said.
Neighbor Raeann Wallace, 64, said Tyler Hadley was “always a good kid,” but said she hadn’t seen him for about a year.
“I used to see him getting off the bus and walking home, and a couple of times we’d go on vacation, I’d say, ‘Hey Tyler, watch my house, don’t let anybody bother my house,’” Wallace said. “Then all of a sudden, I just never saw him anymore.”
Wallace said the Hadleys had lived next door since before Tyler Hadley was born.
Police went to the home early Sunday morning for a noise complaint, but there was no reason for police to enter the home, said Officer Tom Nichols, police spokesman. The party apparently was winding up at the time.
A guest at the party, Mike Young, told WPTV NewsChannel 5 he does not know Tyler Hadley well. “There was a good 50 people that were here (Saturday) night,” he said.
Police went to the home again about 4:20 a.m. after the anonymous tip indicating a 17-year-old might have killed his parents and the bodies were in the home.
Nichols said Tyler Hadley as of Monday afternoon was at the St. Lucie Regional Juvenile Detention Center on Bell Avenue in Fort Pierce.
Kryak asked that anyone who attended the party call police at 772-871-5000.