Judge Ignores Expert Witness Testimony in Sentencing Hearing

Michael Morgenstern

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— Updated on June 22, 2020

florida stateA Florida teenager, 17-year-old Tyler Hadley, was sentenced to life in prison without parole by St. Lucie County Judge Robert R. Makemson. This, despite the fact that two expert witnesses testified that Hadley was in no way acting as an adult when he killed his parents, Blake and Mary Jo Hadley, two years ago. He had hit each of them in the head with a hammer more than three dozen times each. Then he returned to a party that was going on outside the master bedroom, where his parents lay dead.

Judge Makemson spent about 40 minutes explaining the reasoning behind his sentencing decision. But what it all seemed to come down to was encapsulated in a statement he read from a Florida Senate bill that said the purpose of a sentence is punishment. He claims he chose the harshest sentence in part because he did not believe Hadley was suffering from mental illness at the time. Regardless of how that claim goes against the testimony of two expert witnesses in the sentencing hearing.

Related: Forensic psychiatry expert witness opines on indigent criminal defendant’s right to forensic expert witness at trial

One defense criminology expert witness, Dr. Kathleen Heide, testified that Hadley had the personality development of a 12-year-old at the time of the killings. Dr. Heide is a criminology professor and a specialist in parricide, the killing of a parent or close adult relative. Dr. Heide testified that Hadley killed his parents and then threw a party because he was depressed, immature, felt like an outcast and had very low self-esteem.

Dr. Heide saw Hadley six times over two years and came to the conclusion that Hadley was neither abused nor neglected by his parents. However, he was severely depressed, drinking or doing drugs on a daily basis.

According to her testimony, she said, “He’s taking away the two people who loved him most. He had no emotional appreciation for that.  In addition, he didn’t have any emotional appreciation for what this would do to his brother and his family.” Dr. Heide testified that Hadley has taken responsibility for what he did and feels remorse for many other things he’d done to his parents, including lying to them and stealing from them. Dr. Heide stated that, in one of her first encounters with Hadley, he said he had three wishes: to get out of jail, to get his parents back and to have lots of money.

In addition to that testimony, there was more from psychiatry expert witness Dr. Wade Myers, who is a professor of psychiatry at Brown University and who conducted a psychiatric evaluation of Hadley. According to a report in the Palm Beach Post, Dr. Myers testified that Hadley was “quite severely mentally ill” at the time of his parents’ killing. He had been treated by many medical professionals for  serious childhood depression from the age of 10. It was at that age that he was first prescribed Prozac and Lexapro. By the time Hadley was 15, he had already tried alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, Ecstasy and cough syrup. At the time of the killings, Hadley was also suffering from thyroid and growth hormone issues, according to the expert.

It’s clear that, based on the testimony of these two expert witnesses that Tyler Hadley was suffering from severe mental illness at the time he killed his parents. As such, he is in serious need of treatment. If Hadley had actually been 12 years old, he wouldn’t have qualified for life in prison without parole. But because his chronological age was 17, the fact that he was emotionally 12 years old had no bearing on the judge’s decision at all.

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