Defense argues media coverage of man accused in stepdaughter AJ Hadsell’s death will impact jury selection

Virginia

COURTLAND, Va. (WAVY) – Wesley Hadsell, the Norfolk man facing charges in connection with the death of his 19-year-old stepdaughter AJ, went before a judge Thursday afternoon and asked for his trial to be moved outside of Hampton Roads. 

The 19-year-old first went missing while she was home in Norfolk on spring break in 2015. Her body was found a month later in a ditch behind an empty home in Southampton County. Her father was charged with first- and second-degree murder in connection with her death.

During a court hearing, Hadsell’s lawyer argued the intense media coverage since the case began will make finding an unbiased local jury extremely unlikely.

The defense motion filed in court was more than 130 pages long and included a wide range of media coverage of the case. A variety of news sources, ranging from local outlets to People Magazine, have picked up the story.

Hadsell’s defense attorney also subpoenaed the lead investigator for the Norfolk Police Department to testify Thursday about the damage of local media coverage in the case. The investigator said that the informants, due to media coverage, will not be credible witnesses.

While the judge decided not to make a ruling on the motion Thursday, he didn’t rule out revisiting it if issues arise during jury selection. 

Hadsell and his lawyer brought several other motions before the judge Thursday.

Those motions include:

  • A request to not to allow any jailhouse informants
  • A request to limit the amount of photos that prosecutors can use in the case
  • A request for the prosecution to lay out the theory of the case so the defense can know whether prosecutors intend to pursue the first- or second-degree murder charge in the trial

Another motion filed requested the judge deny all jailhouse witnesses from testifying at the upcoming trial. The defense gave the judge a number of emails to read, arguing those emails show a pattern of leaks of pertinent information by law enforcement to the media. The defense said those leaks shaped the informants’ testimony. The defense also provided evidence showing certain lawyers leaked information about the case to their clients in order for the clients to profit. 

The Norfolk Police lead investigator also testified there have been leaks in the department: someone leaked GPS route evidence to the media and police do not know how it happened. Also, the investigator claimed someone tampered with evidence.

The judge noted he was appalled by the information about the leaks, however it only referenced specific individuals. The judge denied the motion because he didn’t want to put a “blanket ban” on jailhouse informants for the trial. 

The defense also submitted a motion to limit the number of photos of AJ Hadsell’s body that could be showed to the jury during trial. The reasoning outlined in court documents by the defense said the commonwealth’s attorney liked to “saturate the jury with sensational picture after sensational picture, after sensational picture.”

The judge also denied that motion. 

The final motion filed by the defense asked the prosecution to lay out its theory of what happened to AJ and why prosecutors say her stepfather is responsible for her death. Right now, Hadsell faces two murder charges, a first-degree charge and a second-degree charge. As Hadsell prepares his defense, his lawyer argued he needs to know what exactly he’s defending. 

The judge also denied this motion, saying the indictment speaks for itself and covers everything the commonwealth’s attorney is legally required to provide. 

Hadsell was also arraigned Thursday on two new drug charges for possession of a schedule III substance while behind bars. He pleaded not guilty. 

Hadsell will be back in court for a preliminary hearing Dec. 16. His trial is scheduled to start in Southampton County in February. 

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