BROOKSVILLE – Brett Hattenbrun spent about half of his two-hour sentencing hearing on Thursday telling Judge Daniel Merritt Jr. what kind of life he lived before he was arrested and charged with the murder of his daughter-in-law in 2011.
Hattenbrun, 63, said when he married his wife, Bernadette, at age 20, they had “everything and everybody against” them. They worked tirelessly to build a house and provide for their children. Hattenbrun also listed for the judge the types of jobs he worked and the names and phone numbers of those who could vouch for his character.
He admitted to being controlling, but said he has never hurt a living being.
“I will be back on appeal to prove my innocence,” Hattenbrun said.
Merritt sentenced Hattenbrun to life for the murder charge, plus 105 years for six additional counts against him of aggravated assault, making or throwing a destructive device and theft.
Last month, 12 jurors found Hattenbrun guilty of second-degree murder. His daughter-in-law, Joey Lynn Hattenbrun, was found badly beaten in the driveway of her Owl Road home in Sept. 2011, and later died from her injuries. Eleven days later, when members of the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office arrived at Hattenbrun’s home to serve a search warrant, he threw a Molotov cocktail at them and started firing a nail gun.
Hattenbrun, who was shot in the abdomen during the ordeal, confessed to murdering Joey Lynn Hattenbrun after about 14 hours of police questioning at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Tampa.
During Thursday’s hearing, Hattenbrun apologized to the detectives for throwing the fire bomb, but said he knew they wouldn’t be hurt by it.
Hattenbrun also called his confession “bogus,” and said law enforcement purposely erased portions of the interview when they were threatening him.
“I did not kill the girl, that’s why I didn’t see any problem giving a bogus confession,” Hattenbrun said. “I should have taken the stand but (defense attorney) Alan Fanter thought it was best I didn’t.”
Hattenbrun did not testify during his trial, and Fanter did not call any defense witnesses. Jurors also found Hattenbrun guilty of the lesser charges of aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer, and not attempted murder as originally charged.
Multiple members of Joey Lynn Hattenbrun’s family remembered her as a loving mother, best friend and role model – even perfect.
“She was so perfect she made the rest of us look bad,” said Joey Hattenbrun’s aunt and godmother, Virginia Castro-Conway.
Joey Hattenbrun’s mother, Carolyn Crouch, said every day that she wakes up is the “17th of September 2011 all over.”
“When we got back to the house I actually held you, for driving us to the hospital. Little did I know I was hugging Joey’s murderer. That’s why I hate you, Brett,” Crouch said. “Every month for 2 1⁄2 years I sat in that first row behind you because for two reasons, one for Joey, one for you, because I actually enjoy seeing you in handcuffs and shackles.”
Joey Hattenbrun’s sister, Chelsea Crouch, remembered her sister as her mentor and best friend, and said she will always remind Joey’s young son, Bradley, about his mother. Joey Hattenbrun’s best friend, Sandra Liebl, said she’ll remember her not as a “victim,” but the “amazing person she was.”
“You can’t take that from us,” Liebl said.
Though Merritt handed down the life sentence plus 105 years, he did say he considered Brett Hattenbrun’s life before the crime.
“I considered the issue of imposing 10 concurrent life sentences, but did not do so ... based on the fact I believe you have done some good in your life,” Merritt said.
Hattenbrun, who once worked as a corrections officer, had no prior offenses.