ROSWELL, GA - A man accused of shooting two teens behind a Roswell grocery store will spend the rest of his life in prison after accepting a plea deal on Wednesday.
Jeffery Hazelwood pleaded guilty but mentally ill in the shooting murders of 17-year-olds Natalie Henderson and Carter Davis. The teens were found shot to death behind a Publix on August 1, 2016. Investigators said surveillance footage captured Hazelwood follow the two behind the grocery store.
The teens' bodies were discovered hours later.
Hazelwood was ruled competent to stand trial after a psychiatrist confirmed he suffered from five mental illnesses that resulted in hallucinations, suicidal thoughts and anxiety.
In a court hearing two weeks ago, Christian Hildreth, a forensic director of Central State Hospital, testified that Hazelwood had shown progress since arriving at the hospital for treatment back in February.
As tearful friends and family sat and watched, both parents of Henderson and Davis took turns speaking about the children they had lost.
The Hendersons spoke first on their daughter’s life:
“Natalie was only 17 years old and had so much more to give and experience in her life. She will never graduate from high school. She will never experience college. She will never get to fulfill her dream of becoming an architect. Natalie will never experience the incredible joy and love of having children of her own. She will never get the chance to change the world for the better. As her family, we will never again hear her beautiful singing or hear her playing her guitar around the house. We’ll never be able to hear infectious belly laugh or hug her tightly just as she did with us. Her daddy will never be able to give away her hand in marriage. No more opportunities to tell her how much we love her. No more trips as a family with her. Everything has changed.”
The atmosphere in the courtroom quickly became emotional as the Henderson’s finished reading their letter only to be followed by the Davis’ getting ready to read their letter dedicated to the impact this has had on their lives, as well as their son’s life.
The Davis’ spoke of their son’s loving personality and his mother, Michelle Davis, continually asked how she could tell of the impact this has had on her and her family’s life.
“How can I tell you of the impact on our life of not having this gift, this incredible energy who is always all in, gone and absent forever? I think of Carter’s lacrosse teams. He was scouted heavily and was highlighted on a national site for 'lacrosse player to out for'. How can I explain the impact of watching lacrosse without our 'Number 4' on the field? I think of Carter’s academics. He was gifted in math and science but also was articulate. He planned on studying engineering, researching specialties like aeronautical engineering; biomedical and even structural. What could he have become? What impact would he have made? How can I give words to the impact of losing a talented and smart young man, one who cared about a world and how we treat it. I think to Carter’s great, humble gift of caring for those who were picked on, had trouble in school or was left out. He stood up to his friends and aggressors. Never backing down but protecting; helping others treated unfairly. He helped kids do homework, make friends, and feel included. How can I say the impact that losing this voice, this kind of good and kind character is on our world? I can’t.”
Judge Shawn Ellen LaGrua read the letters from both parents and stated,
“I’ve been doing this a long time. For those of you who don’t know, I’ve been in a courtroom like this most of my entire career. I can count on less than 2 or 3 fingers the number of cases that have impacted me as this one has. And I don’t say that because you all are sitting here. I say that because it’s from my heart, across the board. The poise, the composure of both the Henderson and Davis families is amazing. Mrs. Henderson, you said Natalie would never change the world; she already has. This case will have a lasting impact on many, many different issues and causes. It may not have been the way she wanted to impact the world or the way that ya’ll thought she would impact the world, but she has. And she’s impacted every person that’s been in this courtroom from the very first day that I handled this case. And she will continue to impact the world. I truly wish, from the bottom of my heart, it was in a different way. But she has.
To the Davis family. You indicated you found some light. Carter will continue to bring light. And just like Natalie, has made a lasting impact on the folks in this courtroom, obviously on ya’ll’s lives, but also, sometimes, on a failing system. And they will remain the inspiration, at least to this single judge, to do what she can to make sure these things don’t happen in the future. I can’t fix it; I can’t pretend to understand it. And I can’t imagine what all of you are going through and you have my sincere, sincere prayers and condolences.”
The judge sentenced Hazelwood to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Hazelwood did not address the families.
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