Tyler Hadley case: Hadley still awaits trial 1 year after accused of killing parents

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — A year lying empty has made the house at 371 N.E. Granduer Ave. look like the many abandoned buildings in a city hit hard by the scourge of foreclosures.

The once-white siding is shadowed with mildew, and a section of the wooden privacy fence around the screened-in pool is collapsing. Tall grass in the yard and growing through shaggy shrubbery has prompted a Port St. Lucie Code Compliance Division officer to hang a warning on the front doorknob with a note to "please mow and weedeat."

A sign taped to the front window asks that vandalism be reported to a mortgage service.

But the house at 371 N.E. Granduer Ave. has been empty for nearly a year not because of foreclosure but because of tragedy.

It was here, on July 16, 2011, that according to police, 17-year-old Tyler Hadley bludgeoned his parents, Blake and Mary Jo Hadley, to death with a 22-inch claw hammer and then threw a party with an invitation on Facebook.

Quiet now, the house was a beehive of activity in the hours and days after the bodies were discovered: Police and forensic teams inside the crime scene tape searched for evidence that would explain what had happened, while newspaper and television reporters outside the yellow line searched for a story that would resound throughout the country and around the world.

NBC's morning news show "Today" ran a piece on the double homicide July 19, with anchor Matt Lauer calling it a "disturbing story" and "straight out of a horror novel."

Evidence released over the past year tends to support that description.

Even though Circuit Judge James McCann tightened control of evidence released in the case, so far the State Attorney's Office has released 1,820 pages of evidence — mostly transcripts of interviews with the dozens of people at Hadley's party, mail to and from Hadley since he's been in pretrial custody and forensic reports — as well as nearly 1,000 crime scene photographs and audio recordings of interviews.

Assistant State Attorney Bernard Romero, the prosecutor on the case, said that's not an unusual amount of evidence in a homicide trial.

Evidence released by the State Attorney's Office indicates Hadley invited friends to a party at the family home hours before his parents' deaths.

A copy of messages from Hadley's Facebook page includes, "Party at my crib tonight ... maybe," posted at 1:15 p.m. July 16, about four hours before the homicides. He updated at 8:15 p.m.: "Party at my house, hmu ("hit me up" or "contact me")."

And a post at 4:20 a.m. July 17, minutes before police arrived at the family home, hints that Hadley planned another get-together: "Party at my house again, hmu."

The state's star witness is Michael Mandell, the defendant's best friend, who said he called Crime Stoppers to report the homicides after Hadley showed him the dead bodies.

Mandell told police Hadley said he stood over his mother, an elementary school teacher with the St. Lucie County School District for 24 years, about five minutes and contemplated his act as she played video games before striking the first blow. When Hadley's father, described by friends and family as a "gentle giant" standing 6-foot-4 and weighing 300 pounds, entered the room, father and son locked eyes before the son attacked.

Mandell told the media Tyler had said he thought "the devil possessed him" and that Hadley had taken the drug ecstasy before attacking his parents.

"He took three ecstasy pills before he did this," Mandell said. "He said he couldn't do it sober."

According to a synopsis of evidence prepared by the Port St. Lucie Police Department, Mandell told authorities that Hadley, after revealing his parents' dead bodies, "was fine and just went back to partying and talking to everyone, having a good time with other people, like he didn't do anything. (Mandell said) that was the scary part to him and why he called (a Crime Stoppers hotline). To him, (Hadley) showed no remorse, no regret, nothing."

These days Hadley is at the St. Lucie County Jail. '"I see him on a regular basis, both myself and other members of the defense team," said Chief Deputy Public Defender Mark Harllee, who heads Hadley's defense team. "He seems to be in fairly good spirits, given his circumstances."

Harllee said he couldn't comment on the defense strategy or whether a plea deal is being sought because of attorney-client privilege, but letters Hadley sent to his friends and family indicate his mental state will be an issue and he's expecting a negotiated plea.

In a Nov. 18 letter to Mandell, one of many letters to and from Hadley monitored by the St. Lucie County Jail and released as evidence, the defendant wrote: "I pray every day that I get a good plea (deal). I'll take 25 or 40 years. ... If I go to trial, then

I'm (expletive)."

If Hadley is convicted and sentenced to life in prison for the first-degree murder of his parents, it's possible his punishment could include a shot at freedom after 25 years. In June, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that sentencing minors to life in prison with no chance of parole violated the Eighth Amendment's ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

Judges still can sentence juveniles to life in prison, but the decision gives judges discretion to consider mitigating factors such as age and family circumstances in imposing a sentence.

In interviews with police, members of the Hadley family painted a picture of a troubled young man.

During a family trip to Georgia just a week before the homicides, Hadley "randomly stated that he thought he was a girl ... because he was so emotional. He even articulated, 'You know, half boy and half girl' (transgender)."

And at a family gathering on Father's Day 2011, Hadley "just randomly stated that he has a black woman that talks to him in his head."

In an apparent reference to an insanity plea, Hadley mentioned to Mandell "there's something in the defense that could keep me out of prison."

In a Nov. 29 letter to Mandell, he wrote: "We do have a very strong defense and could beat the (first-degree murder) charge if we go to trial. I could be lookin' at 20-40 years in the pen, but at least I'll get out. If I plead insanity and go to a state hospital, I'm lookin' at 10 or 15 years. That's what I pray for."

In an Oct. 27 letter to a friend, Hadley wrote: "I hope all of you don't think of me as some psychopath. I'm not. Far from it. I'm still the same person. I just made a life-threatening mistake."

HADLEY TIMELINE

1:15 p.m. July 16: Hadley posts on his Facebook page: "Party at my crib tonight ... maybe."

About 5 p.m. July 16: Hadley allegedly kills his parents, Blake and Mary Jo Hadley.

8:15 p.m. July 16: Hadley updates Facebook page: "Party at my house, hmu ("hit me up" or "contact me")."

9 p.m. July 16: Party at the Hadley home starts.

2:30 a.m. July 17: Police are sent to the Hadley house after a neighbor complains about noise; but by then the party is winding down, and the officers leave.

4:24 a.m. July 17: Michael Mandell, Hadley's best friend, makes an anonymous call to Crime Stoppers in Orlando reporting the double homicide.

4:40 a.m. July 17: Hadley posts on his Facebook page: "Party at my house again, hmu."

4:42 a.m. July 17: Police arrive at Hadley house, find bodies of Blake and Mary Jo Hadley.

7:57 a.m. July 17: Hadley is interviewed by police at the Port St. Lucie Police Department.

6:45 p.m. July 17: Police begin executing search warrants for the Hadley home and Tyler Hadley himself, swabbing several parts of Hadley's body for DNA and taking photos of cuts and scratches.

10:30 p.m., July 17: Port St. Lucie police arrest Hadley on two counts of first-degree murder, and he is taken from the police department to the Department of Juvenile Justice Detention Center in Fort Pierce.

4:36 p.m. July 18: The State Attorney's Office charges Hadley with two counts of second-degree murder (the most serious charge the office can pursue without a grand jury indictment), and he is moved from the St. Lucie County Juvenile Assessment Center to the St. Lucie County Jail.

July 19: Hadley appears via video conference from the St. Lucie County Jail in front of a judge at the St. Lucie County Courthouse.

July 19: Mandell tells media Hadley confessed to killing his parents and showed him the bodies.

July 23: The funeral for Blake and Mary Jo Hadley is held at St. Lucie Catholic Church in Port St. Lucie.

Aug. 5: Hadley is scheduled to be arraigned before Circuit Judge Dan Vaughn, but the 19th Circuit Court Public Defender's Office enters a written not-guilty plea on his behalf.

Aug. 10: Circuit Judge James McCann restricts how evidence in the Hadley case is released to the public.

Sept. 14: A grand jury indicts Hadley on two counts of first-degree murder.

Dec. 14: Two teen inmates at the St. Lucie County Jail are arrested after accusations they beat Hadley.

Dec. 16: Hadley turns 18, is transferred to adult section of St. Lucie County Jail.

June 25: U.S. Supreme Court rules that sentencing minors, including Hadley, who was 17 at the time of his parents' deaths, to life in prison with no chance of parole violates the Eighth Amendment's ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

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