(March 20, 2015) Justin Hadel, 24, was convicted and sentenced to life in prison for the murder of Christine Sheddy in 2011, but won a retrial in the Maryland Court of Special Appeals, which began late last week.
Hadel successfully argued his request for a new attorney, denied by Judge Thomas Groton III, was grounds for a new trial.
Hadel waived his right to a jury trial and pleaded guilty to first-degree murder, which in accordance with the plea deal will suspend all but 30 years from what could have been a life sentence. Formal sentencing is scheduled for April 9.
In the fall of 2007, Tia Johnson invited Christine Sheddy, 26, of Milford, Del., and two of her three children to move in with her and her boyfriend, Clarence Jackson, into a farmhouse on Byrd Road in Pocomoke City. Johnson’s cousin, Justin Hadel, then 17, was also staying there. Just two weeks later, Sheddy went missing.
Searches in the vicinity of Byrd Road came up empty, and Sheddy remained missing for more than two years.
Later, Jackson and Johnson reportedly moved to Tennessee, where Jackson eventually ended up in prison.
Johnson wanted to be able to see his daughter, still in Maryland, and he had information to trade: the location of Sheddy’s remains. A woman in contact with Jackson relayed a letter to Sheddy’s mother, Lynn Dodenhoff, reportedly telling her he knew where her daughter was, and his willingness to cut a deal in exchange for being moved back here.
Two days later, Sheddy’s remains were found under about 18 inches of dirt adjacent to a Snow Hill bed and breakfast where Jackson and Johnson had previously been employed. She had been killed by blunt force trauma, and had suffered a number of blows to her head and face.
Jackson told investigators Hadel was the murderer, Jackson himself had masterminded the cover up and Johnson had provided transportation.
“It’s not that she drove the car. It’s the fact that she knew what happened. She continued that cruel charade,” Groton said at the 2012 trial. “Ms. Johnson was up to her eyeballs in the cover-up. That’s her culpability.”
Groton then sentenced Johnson to five years in prison for being an accessory after the fact and 10 years in prison for third-degree burglary. He suspended all but two and one-half years of the 10-year sentence. The sentences will be served consecutively. After her release, she will be on supervised probation for five years and she must have no contact with Sheddy’s family.
Groton sentenced Jackson to life in prison, with all but 30 years suspended for first-degree murder.
After the trial, legislation by former Delegate Mike McDermott made its way through the Assembly and doubled the penalties for those convicted of being an accessory to a first- or second-degree murder. The Sheddy-Bennett took effect Oct. 1, 2013 and was named in honor of Christine Sheddy and Whitney Bennett, a Wicomico county woman killed by her boyfriend aided by his father in Dec. 2010.