SNOW HILL — A Texas man, now convicted twice for first-degree murder in the death of a Delaware woman in Pocomoke in 2007, was sentenced on Thursday to life in prison with all but 30 years suspended, bringing a measure of closure to the Worcester County homicide case that has been ongoing for eight years.
Justin Hadel, now 24, of College Station, Texas, was sentenced after pleading guilty to first-degree murder in March. Hadel was originally found guilty of first-degree murder for the beating death of Christine Sheddy, a 26-year-old Delaware woman reported missing in Pocomoke in November 2007. Hadel was sentenced at that time to life in prison without the possibility of parole, but filed an appeal seeking to overturn his conviction on a variety of reasons.
First and foremost, he claimed his conviction should be overturned because he was denied the opportunity to change his lawyer just four days before his scheduled trial. The Court of Special Appeals upheld Hadel’s conviction, but he filed a second appeal with the higher Court of Appeals, which overturned the Worcester County Circuit Court conviction and remanded the case back to Circuit Court for a new trial.
In March, Hadel decided to forego another lengthy trial and instead agreed to plead guilty to first-degree murder. The plea spared the expense of a second trial and the emotional toll it would have taken on the victim’s family.
Sheddy, a single mother, was first reported missing in November 2007 from the farm in Pocomoke. 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 November 13, 2007, touching 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. 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, where he had eventually returned to his family after Sheddy’s disappearance, and was charged with first-degree murder.
Johnson testified during the initial trial she had returned to the Byrd Rd. residence on the evening of November 13, 2007, to find the typical bonfire blazing on the property with no one else around. Hadel and Jackson returned a short time later and told Johnson that Sheddy had run off.
Johnson made arrangements for Sheddy’s children to be picked up, while Hadel and Jackson went to search for Sheddy. The two men returned about two hours later and the three adults and Johnson’s two children packed some belongings and inexplicably went to the River House in Snow Hill for the night. Sheddy’s remains were found buried on the grounds of the River House in February 2010 after a tip to investigators from an anonymous source.
During the trial, testimony showed Hadel had struck Sheddy as many as four times with a blunt object during a dispute over sex. Johnson testified Hadel had been intimate with Sheddy after she came to live at the Byrd Rd. residence. It also became apparent Jackson and Johnson were involved in the cover-up, although the extent of how much Johnson knew and when she knew it was not entirely clear.
What is clear is that Hadel eventually confessed to Johnson while the two were in a car together at a gas station in Salisbury after two earlier attempts to tell his cousin what happened that night. By the end of the initial trial, it was clear Jackson and Johnson were involved, at least in the cover-up, but the guilt for Sheddy’s death was squarely on Hadel.
At the initial trial, prosecutors argued Hadel intended to kill Sheddy and had enough time to reconsider before hitting her four times. The defense attorney argued for a first-degree assault conviction, asserting Hadel was a pawn in a larger cover-up constructed by Jackson and presumably Johnson.
Jackson was found to have a role in the murder and admitted being the ringleader and mastermind behind the cover-up. He was ultimately convicted of first-degree murder and was sentenced to life in prison with all but 30 years suspended.
For her part, Johnson knew more about the murder than she originally admitted and drove to the River House bed-and-breakfast in Snow Hill knowing Sheddy’s remains were in the trunk and waited while Hadel and Jackson buried the victim on the facility’s grounds. Johnson pleaded guilty in October 2012 to accessory after the fact and was sentenced to five years in jail for her role in the cover-up of Sheddy’s murder.