BROOKSVILLE – Joey Lynn Hattenbrun’s family and friends waited for hours outside Judge Daniel Merritt Jr.’s courtroom Tuesday night, wondering how jurors could find Brett Hattenbrun guilty of anything other than first-degree murder.
Brett Hattenbrun is fingerprinted shortly after jurors found him guilty of second-degree murder. WENDY JOAN BIDDLECOMBE/STAFF
Around 9:30 p.m., jurors reached their verdict. Hattenbrun, who had been charged with first-degree murder, was found guilty of the lesser charge of second-degree murder.
He was also found guilty on nine other felony charges, and is facing up to life in prison when he is sentenced on April 24. Jurors also found Hattenbrun, 63, guilty of the lesser charges of aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer, and not attempted murder.
The trial began with jury selection March 17, and wrapped up with closing arguments from prosecutors and Hattenbrun’s defense team Tuesday afternoon. Jurors started deliberating shortly after 4 p.m.
Brett Hattenbrun, 63, was charged with first-degree murder, robbery with a deadly weapon, three counts of attempted murder on a law enforcement officer, three counts of aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer and two counts of throwing a destructive device in fall 2011.
Prosecutors said he killed Joey Lynn Hattenbrun because he believed she was cheating on her husband, Chad Hattenbrun, who is Brett Hattenbrun’s son. More than a week after the slaying, when sheriff’s detectives arrived at Hattenbrun’s home to execute a search warrant, Hattenbrun hurled a Molotov cocktail at them and began shooting a nail gun, law enforcement officials said.
With jurors out of the courtroom on Tuesday, Hattenbrun told Judge Daniel Merritt Jr. he wished to exercise his right to not testify in his own defense. Fanter did not call any witnesses.
“Brett Hattenbrun explained to you how Joey Lynn died,” said Assistant State Attorney Bill Catto during his closing argument.
On Monday afternoon, after listening to hours of an audio interview Hernando County sheriff’s detectives conducted with Hattenbrun on his way to – and while being treated at – St. Joseph’s Hospital in Tampa, jurors heard the defendant confess to killing his daughter-in-law.
After hours of denying the murder, Hattenbrun told Sgt. Phil Lakin and detectives George Loydgren and Randy Williamson how we went to his son’s and daughter-in-law’s home at 6492 Owl Road in Weeki Wachee late on the evening on Sept. 16, 2011.
According to Catto and sheriff’s investigators:
Hattenbrun said he knew his daughter-in-law would be arriving home from work, and told her they needed to talk, asking her if she was cheating on Chad Hattenbrun.
Hattenbrun said his daughter-in-law grabbed her phone and said she was going to call the police and have him charged with battery. When he retrieved a metal pipe from the back of his truck, she said she would have him arrested on attempted murder charges.
Hattenbrun said he told her to put the phone down, and she kicked him in the groin. Hattenbrun knocked the phone out of her hand and tried to cover her mouth when she began screaming.
“And she’s screaming more, I hear her again, and I hit her like four times,” Hattenbrun said.
“And she hit the ground, and I said, ‘Oh my God, what did I do?’” Hattenbrun said on the recording. “The whole thing took two to three minutes; I had no intention to kill the poor thing,” Hattenbrun said.
He then took the rings, gloves he was wearing during the attack and weapon to a trash bin behind Tire Kingdom on State Road 50 and threw them out, investigators said. He stopped for a sandwich and a milkshake, and was home by the time his son found Joey Lynn lying in the driveway and called his parents, deputies said.
The 30-year-old mother and pharmacy technician was taken to St. Joseph’s Hospital, where she died from her injuries.
“Doing someone’s son wrong is not valid grounds for murder, and we know that,” Catto told jurors. “This man is guilty as charged, he told you so.”
During the defense’s closing argument, Alan Fanter asked jurors to consider other theories for the killing, such as a drug deal gone bad or that the victim’s husband might have committed the act.
Fanter asked jurors to consider if Hattenbrun’s confession was “free and voluntary,” or coerced, because he had been interviewed for more than 15 hours after being shot in the abdomen. On doctor’s orders he only had been able to consume ice chips, and law enforcement officials had him chained to a bed.
Fanter asked why the detectives didn’t let him rest and recover and interrogate him the following day.
Fanter also questioned if Hattenbrun actually could have killed multiple law enforcement officers with the Molotov cocktail he was accused of throwing.
“If you look at the pictures you’re going to see nothing’s burnt,” Fanter said.
Before closing arguments on Tuesday, jurors viewed Joey Hattenbrun’s injuries as District 13 Medical Examiner Mary Mainland testified about the injuries she observed during an autopsy.
Mainland said Joey Hattenbrun had deep lacerations and bruising to her skull and upper body, including defense wounds. Mainland estimated Hattenbrun was struck at least 10 times with the weapon that killed her. Each of the blows had potential to be lethal, Mainland said.
On Tuesday, Joey Lynn Hattenbrun’s younger sister, Chelsea Crouch, remembered her as a caring mother and protective older sister.
Crouch said Hattenbrun’s son, Bradley, doesn’t seem to remember arriving home with his father and friend when they pulled in that September night and found her lying in the driveway.
Instead, he remembers trips to Disney World, and happily points out his mother in the photos she often shows him.