A Virginia man was found guilty of murdering his adopted stepdaughter by a jury late Monday afternoon.
It only took jurors in Southampton County Circuit Court some 40 minutes to deliberate and then seal the fate of 43-year-old Wesley Hadsell over the March 2015 murder of Angelica “A.J.” Hadsell, who was 18 years old and on spring break at the time she disappeared.
Investigators found the young woman’s body roughly one month later outside of an abandoned home in Southampton County after tracking the GPS movements of the stepfather’s work van. A.J.’s body was partially buried, face down, in a ditch. Her sweatpants had been pulled down.
A prosecutor said Wesley Hadsell treated his victim “like trash,” according to a court report by The Virginian-Pilot.
Wendy Gunther with the Virginia Office of the Chief Medical Examiner determined — due to the presence of bruises on the victim’s eyes and chin, and three times the lethal dose of heroin in her system — that A.J. died from “homicidal violence” and acute heroin poisoning. Hair follicle analysis showed the Longwood University freshman had no prior history of drug use, which friends and family confirmed. An affirmative determination of sexual assault was impossible, Gunther’s report said, due to damage inflicted on the corpse by insects and other animals.
The defense argued that A.J. was suicidal, citing memes on her phone and some of her poems that allegedly betrayed a profound sense of sadness after breaking up with her boyfriend.
The evidence for murder, defense attorney James Ellenson claimed, was all circumstantial.
But prosecutors poked several holes in Wesley Hadsell’s case.
“Why did Hadsell have the body if he didn’t kill her?” the district attorney’s office asked, according to Portsmouth, Va.-based NBC affiliate WAVY. “Why would he dump her behind an abandoned home, face down in mid under a piece of plywood if he wasn’t covering up a crime?”
Additional evidence presented in court showed that both Wesley Hadsell’s and A.J.’s cellular phones were tracked closely together via satellite pings on the day she went missing.
According to the prosecution, A.J. wasn’t killed until the day after she disappeared. The physical marks left on her body, Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Toni Colvin said during trial, were consistent with someone being pinned down and forcibly injected with heroin.
Wesley Hadsell’s drug dealer testified during trial that the defendant had purchased heroin the day after the girl was last seen alive. And Norfolk police later found heroin in the stepfather’s motel room–two weeks after A.J. disappeared.
Then there was convenience store surveillance footage, and bank records, that placed the defendant in the area where A.J.’s body was found in the days after she was killed.
Supporting the defense’s suicide theory was the notion that AJ actually overdosed on a medication, nortriptyline, often prescribed for depression that she was using at the time to treat migraines. The medical examiner didn’t test for the presence of that substance during the autopsy, the defense noted, and her dosage had recently been increased.
Jurors didn’t buy the suicidal ideation argument and ultimately agreed with the commonwealth’s case.
Wesley Hadsell was convicted of murder in the first degree and concealing a dead body. A charge of second-degree murder had been dismissed late last week by the judge. The defendant shook his head as the verdicts came down while two of A.J.’s younger sisters began to cry. The grieving mother’s eyes grew moist.
He faces the possibility of life in prison when he’s sentenced on April 4, 2022.
[images via Norfolk Police Department]
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