FRANKLIN, Va. (WAVY) – The jury reached a verdict in the murder trial of Wesley Hadsell on Monday afternoon. They found him guilty of his two remaining charges, first-degree murder and concealment of a body, in the death of his adopted stepdaughter, AJ.
Jurors went into deliberations late Monday. It took only 45 minutes for them to bring back the verdict.
Hadsell was accused of killing 18-year-old Angelica “AJ” Hadsell back in 2015 while she was on spring break from Longwood University. Her body was found about a month later, at an abandoned home in Southampton County, after investigators used GPS in Hadsell’s work van.
The medical examiner ruled AJ died due to homicidal violence and acute heroin poisoning.
The trial began almost three weeks ago. During that time, both sides presented a lot of evidence.
The main piece of evidence tying Hadsell to the case is that police found AJ’s body by following the GPS history on Hadsell’s work van from the days following AJ’s disappearance.
The prosecution repeatedly raised the questions “Why did Hadsell have the body if he didn’t kill her?” and ‘Why would he dump her behind an abandoned home, face down in mud under a piece of plywood if he wasn’t covering up a crime?”
The evidence surrounding the first degree murder charge is largely circumstantial. The defense argued it was not enough. But as the trial went on, the evidence piled up. For example, Hadsell and AJ’s phones were tracking together via satellite pings on the day she went missing.
The defense’s main theory was that AJ was suicidal and killed herself by overdosing on the anti-depression medication she was prescribed to help with her migraines. The medical examiner never checked for that drug, Nortriptyline, in AJ’s system. Officials concluded with a high level of certainty AJ died from heroin poisoning since the toxicology reports showed she had triple the lethal dose of heroin in her system. AJ’s hair analysis showed she had no history of drug use.
The defense pointed to AJ’s state of mind around the time she died. She was going through a breakup and her phone had sad suicide-themed memes and photos saved.
The commonwealth called the suicide theory “absurd.”
When WAVY News spoke with Hadsell’s defense lawyer last Friday, he said that if there was a conviction on the first degree murder charge, he planned to immediately make a motion for the judge to set aside the verdict maintaining there isn’t enough evidence to convict Hadsell on the murder charge.
Monday was the first day many of AJ’s friends and family members were allowed in the courtroom. AJ’s family immediately broke into tears when the guilty verdict was announced. This is the outcome they have been waiting almost seven years to hear.
We spoke briefly off camera with some members of AJ’s family after the verdict came down, they said they’re thankful to police and prosecutors for this “justice of sorts” for AJ.
Hadsell also faced a second degree murder charge, but after the close of evidence on Friday, the defense asked the judge to drop that charge, saying the commonwealth didn’t prove it. The commonwealth’s attorney and judge agreed.
This was Hadsell’s second murder trial. The first one in 2020 ended in a mistrial after only two and a half days.