SNOW HILL — A Texas man, convicted in June of first-degree murder in the November 2007 death of a Delaware woman, was sentenced last Friday to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
In June, a Worcester County jury found Justin Hadel, now 20, guilty of first-degree murder for the beating death of Christine Sheddy, a 26-year-old Delaware woman reported missing in November 2007 from a farm near Pocomoke where she had been staying with friends.
Sheddy had moved to the Byrd Rd. residence just about two months earlier and shared the residence with another couple, Clarence “Junior” Jackson and Tia Johnson, along with Johnson’s two children, and Hadel, who is Johnson’s cousin. Sheddy was reported missing on Nov. 13, 2007, touching off a massive search.
Two years later, Sheddy’s remains were discovered buried on the grounds of the River House Bed and Breakfast in Snow Hill, where both Jackson and Johnson had worked prior to Sheddy’s disappearance. The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner later ruled Sheddy had been killed by as many as four blows from a blunt object. Investigators identified Hadel as the suspect and he was arrested in Texas and was charged with first-degree murder.
Prior to sentencing last Friday, Judge Thomas Groton heard compelling testimony from the victim’s mother, Lynn Dodenhoff, who painfully explained what Sheddy’s children will continue to endure throughout their lives.
“The kids will never see their mom’s face again or hear her voice,” she said. “There will be no Christmas memories, no Thanksgiving dinners, no Trick-or-Treating. All of that has been taken away.”
Dodenhoff also told the judge how she continues to see her late daughter through her grandchildren left behind by the tragic murder. She related the story of a recent car trip with her granddaughter when she was taken aback by the similarity.
“I will never be able to hold my daughter again, but she lives on through her children,” she said. “I see more and more of her in them every day. I’m asking for life without parole. My daughter got a death sentence. Her children and my family got life without parole.”
Dodenhoff’s husband, Steve, also addressed the court and asked Groton to mete out the maximum sentence.
“My wife is a very tough individual, but this has been very life challenging,” he said. “My job is to fix things, but I can’t fix this. I would like to see him get the maximum sentence. I want this to be done today.”
State’s Attorney Beau Oglesby, who took over the prosecution midstream, also argued for the maximum sentence.
“The manner of death shows lack of any remorse,” he said. “There is only one sentence that makes any sense in this case.”
Hadel, who appeared stoic and indifferent during sentencing, refused to address the court on his own behalf. However, public attorney Arch McFadden suggested the judge had considerable leeway with sentencing and pushed for a sentence in the range of life with all but 25 to 40 years suspended.
“Life without the possibility of parole is a discretionary sentence, and I would argue it is cruel and unusual punishment in this case,” he said. “The testimony is pretty clear when you look at the level of culpability. There was at least one other person involved. There are other actors in this.”
While Oglesby has acknowledged there are others under scrutiny for their involvement in the crime, Hadel had been convicted of first-degree murder and his sentence was the only issue on the table last Friday. McFadden argued the fact Hadel was a juvenile at the time of the murder as he continued to push for something less than life without parole.
“He’s only 20 years old now,” he said. “It seems significant and inappropriate to sentence a 20-year-old to life without parole. He’ll never even have a chance.”
However, Groton countered Sheddy was just a young woman at the time of her murder.
“You ask for a consideration of age and point out he was only a juvenile when this occurred, but we have to remember Christine Sheddy was only 26 and just reaching her prime,” he said. “You also bring up his upbringing, but as bad as that was, it was not a license to break the law and certainly not a license to kill.”
Groton also acknowledged the evidence and testimony points to the involvement of others.
“I don’t for a minute believe Mr. Hadel acted alone, but he was fully involved,” he said. “He was up to his eyeballs in this. … She was buried in a hole with no more regard then one would give a dog or a cat. That cruel hoax gave false hope to her family and the community. Folks were exerting all their energy and every effort to find her when you knew full well she was buried in Snow Hill and would never been seen alive again.”
Groton called Sheddy’s murder a tragedy as he handed down a sentence of life without the possibility of parole for Hadel.
“Obviously, this is a difficult case and a tragic situation that calls for a severe sentence,” he said. “There are a lot of things to consider, but most importantly is the tremendous tragedy. There is noting more painful for a parent or a family to endure.”