Hammer Murder: Florida Teen Charged as Adult But Can't Get Death Penalty

Prosecutors seek first-degree murder charges for Tyler Hadley.

ByABC News
July 19, 2011, 1:32 PM

July 19, 2011— -- The Florida teen accused of killing his parents with a hammer and then partying with his friends, was charged today as an adult but is not eligible for the death penalty because of his age, prosecutors say.

Life in prison without parole is "the only viable option that remains on the table for him," said chief assistant state attorney Thomas Bakkedahl. "While it may not be satisfying to me, that's all we've got."

Tyler Hadley, 17, was charged today with two counts of second degree murder which will keep him in jail while the state attorney's office assembles a grand jury, the only way to prosecute Hadley for first degree murder. In Florida, first degree murder carries two punishments: the death penalty for people 18 or older, or life in prison without parole.

Prosecutors made the decision to seek first degree murder charges against Hadley after seeing the damage done to the bodies of Hadley's parents during the medical examiner's autopsy.

Hadley's public defender, Mark Harllee, told the Associated Press he had met with Hadley, but didn't discuss the teen's state of mind.

"We will be representing him zealously, and the next step we will take is to enter a plea of not guilty on his behalf," he said.

Jurors will likely meet in August, Bakkedahl said.

Prosecutor Regrets Hammer Murder Suspect Is Too Young for Death Penalty

Hadley's next door neighbor Reann Wallace, who knew Tyler since he was born, said she "still cannot get my head wrapped around this whole thing."

Over the weekend she heard squealing tires, kids talking outside her home, and other kids hanging out of their car windows, yelling. So she called police around 2:30 a.m. Sunday to complain about the noise. At that time the party Hadley had organized via Facebook earlier that day seemed to be breaking up.

Police sent a patrol car and didn't see anything unusual. Later that night, an anonymous tip came in saying the Hadleys had been murdered. Police visited the Hadley home again, and found Hadley's parents dead in the master bedroom around 4:20 a.m. Sunday.

Hadley told officers his parents were out of town and appeared "nervous and panicky," according to Port Saint Lucie Police Capt. Don Kryak.

When police checked the house anyway, Port Saint Lucie police spokesman Tom Nichols said they found the bodies behind a locked master bedroom door and a 22 inch framing hammer between the two bodies.

Although the police are still awaiting autopsy results, they "can say for certain" both parents were killed before the party began.

Neighbors and family members are baffled as to how Hadley's alleged crime could have happened.

"How do you have a party with your parents dead in the bedroom? That just defies all logic," Wallace said. "Obviously at that time he didn't have any. He's in a very dark place."

When Hadley was younger, she said, he was always outside riding his bike or playing football with the neighborhood kids. But over the past year she has only seen him a couple of times.

"When I saw picture of him in the police car I was like, 'Oh my God, that's not the Tyler I remember.' He just had this really hard, awful look on his face. It just didn't look like him anymore," she said.

Police said that Hadley dropped out of St. Lucie West Centennial High School and later left Indian River State College in Fort Pierce due to a "questionable situation."

Tyler Hadley's grandfather, Maurice Hadley, told ABCNews.com, "We don't understand this at all. We never expected anything like this. They were a great couple."

Last week Tyler Hadley and his father had taken a trip to north Georgia with Maurice and his wife, Betty, to visit Maurice's sister.

"They had a good time," said Maurice Hadley, 82, who lives in Stuart, Fla. "They went for walks together, white water rafting, went out on a boat ..."

"Everything was great. This is really confusing."

Neighbor Charlene Moses said she's lived on the same block as the Hadleys for 15 years and remembers Tyler Hadley and his older brother stopping by during Halloween. She said they were always polite.

"The poor child. My prayers are with him too," she said. "What he's going through to make him do something like that?"