Mothers of murder victims testify on behalf of McDermott’s bill

Mothers of murder victims testify on behalf of McDermott’s bill

Staff writer

(March 1, 2013) Tia Johnson could have been sentenced for up to 20 years in prison if Delegate Mike McDermott’s bill had been passed before Nov. 13, 2007, the day Christine Sheddy was murdered.

Johnson pleaded guilty Oct. 11, 2012 to being an accessory to murder and was given the maximum sentence of five years in prison.

“Five years is all,” said Lynn Dodenhoff, Sheddy’s mother who testified on behalf of McDermott’s bill during a hearing held by the Judiciary Committee on Feb. 19. “Five years is not enough.”

McDermott’s bill would increase the maximum penalties for being an accessory to murder in the first and second degrees. A person convicted of being an accessory to first-degree murder would be subject to imprisonment for up to 20 years, while someone convicted of being an accessory to second-degree murder would be subject to imprisonment of up to 10 years.

“It makes so much sense to me,” McDermott said Wednesday. “It’s difficult to believe that five years is the maximum for carving up a body or moving it. Someone could get more time for burglary than for being an accessory.”

Sheddy, a 26-year-old mother of three, had been staying in Pocomoke with Johnson and Clarence Jackson Jr., Johnson’s boyfriend, for about two weeks. Johnson’s cousin, Justin Hadel, 17, was also staying there.

Angered that she wasn’t paying rent, Johnson and Hadel killed Sheddy on Nov. 14, 2007. Johnson drove her car with Sheddy’s body in the trunk, to Snow Hill, where the two men buried her in the backyard of a bed and breakfast. The body remained there for more than two years and Dodenhoff’s testimony last week “was exactly three years to the day we found Christine’s remains,” she said.

Hadel was convicted of first-degree murder and was sentenced on Sept. 9, 2011 to life in prison without parole. On Oct. 11, 2012, Jackson and Johnson entered Alford pleas, which means they did not admit guilt, but acknowledged that the prosecution has sufficient evidence for a conviction.

Jackson is serving a life sentence, with all but 30 years suspended, for first-degree murder and Johnson is serving her five-year maximum sentence for being an accessory after the fact.

“You have the power to make this right,” Dodenhoff said in Annapolis. “You know there’s going to be more. This will mean a lot to the victims coming up. Make this right for everyone.”

The Judiciary Committee also heard about the murder of Whitney Bennett, 23, in Wicomico County.

William A. Hill, now 25, murdered Bennett, his off-and-on girlfriend, in December 2010. Her body was found in April 2011 in Somerset County. Hill was found guilty of first-degree murder and was sentenced April 24, 2012 to life in prison without parole.

Hill’s father, Claude Hill, 51, “helped bury her in a trash bag to hide her,” Robin Bennett, Whitney’s mother, told the committee. Hill was sentenced last summer to five years in prison, the maximum for being an accessory to the murder.

“He’s already up for parole and he just went to jail in August for burying my child,” Bennett said.

Worcester County State’s Attorney Beau Oglesby, Wicomico County State’s Attorney Matt Maciarello and Wicomico County Deputy State’s Attorney Ella Disharoon also testified on behalf of the bill.

The increased penalties would not apply to any offense committed before the Oct. 1, 2013 effective date.

“It doesn’t mean they would get 20 years, but they could,” McDermott said. “Or they could still get five years.”

Sen. Norman Stone Jr. cross-filed the bill in the Senate, where it is scheduled to have a hearing in the Judicial Proceedings committee March 12. Dodenhoff plans to testify again.

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