SNOW HILL — Just over a year after a Texas man was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of Christine Sheddy, a Delaware woman reported missing in 2007 whose remains were later found buried under a Snow Hill bed-and-breakfast, the other shoe dropped on Thursday for a pair of Lower Shore residents who assisted in covering up the heinous crime.
Clarence “Junior” Jackson, 38, of Eden, pleaded guilty on Thursday in Worcester County Circuit Court to first-degree murder for his role in Sheddy’s death and was sentenced to life in prison with all suspended but 30 years. Tia Johnson, 32, pleaded guilty to accessory after the fact and burglary and was sentenced to 15 years, of which half was suspended.
While Justin Hadel was convicted of striking Sheddy several times with a shovel last year, crushing her skull and resulting in her death, Jackson also had a role in the murder and has since admitted being the “ringleader and mastermind” behind the cover-up. For her part, Johnson knew more about the murder than she originally admitted and drove to the River House Bed-and-Breakfast knowing Sheddy’s remains were in the trunk and waited while Hadel and Jackson reburied her remains.
Sheddy, 26, was 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 Jackson and Johnson, along with Johnson’s two children, and Hadel, who is Johnson’s cousin.
Sheddy’s case touched off a massive search in the area of the Byrd Rd. residence where she had been living with her two young children. After an extensive two-year search, 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.
In February 2010, Worcester County detectives met with Jackson at a corrections facility in Tennessee where he was being detained on an unrelated case. During an extensive interview, Jackson allegedly told the detectives Hadel had murdered Sheddy on the Byrd St. property and laid out in detail the extensive cover-up operation.
On Thursday, both Jackson and Johnson appeared in Worcester County Circuit Court to plead guilty for their roles in the murder in a pre-arranged deal. State’s Attorney Beau Oglesby told the court from the beginning of the investigation and throughout Hadel’s trial last year, prosecutors knew Jackson and Johnson were more involved then they let on.
“We never believed Hadel acted alone,” he said. “The overwhelming facts suggest two other people were responsible for this. Our goal is to hold all individuals accountable. Given the heinous nature of this crime, the 30-year sentence is appropriate for Mr. Jackson.”
Jackson and Johnson fled the area after the murder and subsequent cover-up, including the burial of the remains under the bed-and-breakfast. Jackson later got a message to the victim’s mother, Lynn Dodenhoff, that he would provide the location of the remains if she could somehow get him out of jail in Tennessee. In a later interview with local law enforcement, Jackson laid out the details including an initial burial on the Pocomoke farm and later moving the body to the Snow Hill location.
“This case is troubling in so many ways,” said Judge Thomas C. Groton. “The manner in which she was killed was gruesome. The cruelty and inhumanity that was displayed, the burying and reburying, the calling of her mother to report she was missing while all the while you knew is beyond comprehension.”
Dodenhoff said prior to Jackson’s sentencing she was left with the task of raising her late daughter’s three young children. She said she could not comprehend how an individual could commit such a heinous crime.
“I can’t wrap my mind around how somebody could beat somebody else to a pulp and the go on with their life,” she said. “I’m trying to get her children to live some semblance of a normal life. That’s my challenge now.”
For his part, Jackson showed some remorse, but did not admit to participating in the actual murder.
“I apologize to Ms. Dodenhoff and her family,” he said. “I did not kill her, but I hid her from you for many years.”
Groton sentenced Jackson to life in prison with all but 30 years suspended, as per the pre-arranged agreement.
“Whatever sentence I impose will provide little relief for the family,” he said. “I only hope this is the ending chapter and will provide them with some solace.”
During the proceedings, Jackson’s defense attorney said his client wanted to be held responsible for his actions and get back with his own daughter, a sentiment Groton could not embrace.
“There is irony in his statement he only wants to get back with his daughter,” he said. “He has a daughter, while Ms. Dodenhoff does not. No matter what I do, it doesn’t change the end results of his actions. That is the frustration of the court.”
The court then turned its focus on the case against Johnson, who pleaded guilty to accessory after the fact and burglary. Oglesby read the statement of facts and summed up Johnson’s participation in a sentence.
“She was awoken by Hadel and Jackson, woke up her own sleeping children and drove her car to the bed and breakfast with the knowledge Christine Sheddy’s remains were in the trunk,” he said.
Dodenhoff said she considered Johnson’s role in the murder the most despicable because she too is a mother of two young children.
“Out of all three, she is the one for which I hold the most contempt,” she said. “She’s a woman and a mother and I’m sad to share her gender. To say all she did was drive the car, there’s a lot more to it than that. She had her own children in the car and she waited while the body was buried and then never told. What kind of mother would make another mother go through this pain and agony?”
Oglesby said Johnson had numerous opportunities to tell what had happened and provide some closure for the victim’s family, but let the case drag on for several years.
“I firmly believe but for Mr. Jackson’s desire to get out of jail in Tennessee, Ms. Sheddy’s remains would still be buried under that bed and breakfast and this case would remain unsolved. Ms. Johnson every day from 2007 on had the opportunity to tell the truth and she never did,” he said.
Johnson’s defense attorney Steven Cox commiserated with the victim’s family’s grief, but attempted to paint his client somewhat as a victim in the case. Cox explained Johnson had a tough upbringing and wore a back brace through her school years and was teased mercilessly. Cox also explained Johnson was manipulated by Hadel and Jackson during the cover-up.
“Throughout her life, other people’s will has been imposed on Tia,” he said. “She wasn’t present when the murder took place. She was presented with circumstances and was told what to do.”
However, while Groton said he could believe she might have been manipulated on the night of the cover-up, he could not believe she was bullied in the years that followed.
“Maybe, just maybe, that night somebody might understand that,” he said. “But many, many days went by when she knew what happened. That’s her culpability. She drove the car, but there is much, much more to it than that. Ms. Johnson was up to her eyeballs in that cover-up and she was not under the will of Jackson and Hadel for all of those years.”
Cox explained Johnson had extreme remorse for Sheddy’s murder and cut herself on at least one occasion years later. He said Johnson wrote in her journal about the crime and cutting herself.
“These tears and this blood are for you,” she wrote in her journal. “I want to die and be with her. She didn’t deserve to die on my watch.”
When it was Johnson’s turn to speak, she expressed remorse and a hope that Thursday’s proceedings could bring some measure of closure.
“I apologize to everyone involved especially Lynn and her family and everything they’re going through,” she said. “I’ll pay for my actions for the rest of my life. There is no happy ending for anybody involved in this case, but maybe now the healing can begin.”
Johnson was then sentenced to five years in prison for the accessory after the fact charge, and 10 years for the third-degree burglary charge for a total of 15 years. As per the plea arrangement, half of the sentence, or seven-and-a-half years were then suspended.
“We’re very, very satisfied Christine’s murderers have been held accountable,” Oglesby said. “I cannot say enough about everything law enforcement did in this case. It was nothing short of miraculous.”
Dodenhoff also praised local law enforcement and had high praise for Oglesby, who took over the case midstream after winning the election over former State’s Attorney Joel Todd. The case became a focal point in what turned out to be an extremely close election.
“I have to admit I was a little leery of Beau, but he far surpassed my expectations,” she said. “I’m very happy with the outcome of this case, but now I have three grandchildren to raise.”