Despite the argument from his defense attorney to the contrary, on Thursday Richard Hatchel was found guilty of premeditating the 2013 murder of his wife, Shannon.
The 31-year-old wife and mother of three was found shot to death in her mobile home, her five-year-old nephew unharmed inside, when Hatchel's mother asked for a welfare check at the residence on Jan. 25, 2013.
Hatchel had sent a text message to his mother that day, asking her to check on Shannon. The text reportedly said he "hurt her real bad."
Hatchel's mother Ann Prather covered her face with her hands and wiped tears from her eyes as assistant district attorney Walt Freeland, in his closing statements, told the jury she called police and said she was afraid of what Richard might have done and what their children might see when they arrived home from school.
Hatchel turned himself in to police the day after the murder, confessing to shooting his wife to death. He reportedly changed his story two days later.
The investigation into the murder revealed shocking evidence.
Surveillance video from a mobile home perpendicular to the Hatchel's shows Richard arriving during the 8 a.m. hour, leaving, then returning during the 11 a.m. hour. He can be seen going from the trailer to his truck, then back to the trailer. Minutes later he leaves the trailer for the final time, Shannon left for dead in the living room.
"In two minutes of video, you know a human life has been taken," Freeland said. "He said he loaded the gun, carried it in by his side, went in to talk, raised it up, put it down, talked more, then Shannon brought up money again. He confessed that he ended up picturing his ex-wife's face and shot (Shannon)."
At the time of Shannon's murder, she and Richard were undergoing marital difficulties. The Sunday before her Friday death, both were at a neighbor's house drinking, Freeland said. Richard said he doesn't remember the incident, but Shannon told him they'd been fighting and she stayed at the neighbor's house overnight. The next day, she asked Richard to leave.
The two met when Shannon was a teenager. She began babysitting for his children with his first wife Linda and ended up pregnant at age 16. For nine years he didn't know that he fathered her oldest child.
Following his divorce from Linda – the wife whom he confessed he saw when he shot Shannon – he and Shannon were married. By this time, Shannon had two more children. All three are now in the permanent custody of a family member in Millington.
Shannon's children aren't the only ones affected by the murder. In the surveillance video, the nephew can be seen leaving the trailer, walking down the street, then returning to it.
"You see him leave, but where was he going to go? The first deputy on the scene said the child screamed without making a sound," Freeland said.
Nearly unrecognizable in court, Hatchel was clean shaven and wearing a tan and navy argyle sweater. He sat motionless in the courtroom.
That he shot and killed his wife was not the matter being tried in court. The jury trial was to decide whether or not Richard Hatchel's actions were premeditated and reckless.
Defense attorney Dave Stockton argued the semantics of the second violation, stating that he could not be convicted of recklessly firing a weapon into a dwelling because he was already inside it when he shot her.
"That's a different crime," Stockton said. "'Into' is the critical element. No one shot into from out of that dwelling."
Additionally, Stockton argued that Richard killed his wife in a fit of rage.
"It's not first-degree, I don't even think it's second-degree," he said. "It sounds like he snapped and said he's not going to take it anymore."
The jury, however, did not agree with Stockton, returning guilty verdicts on both charges after an estimated hour of deliberation.
Assistant district attorney Bo Burk said the justice system prevailed.
"I want to commend Det. Chris Williams, Sheriff Pancho Chumley and the sheriff's office for their tireless efforts in this case," he said. "We would also like to extend our condolences to the family of Shannon Hatchel."
Richard Hatchel, who's in his late 40s, faces a minimum of life in prison, which is a 51-year sentence before he's eligible for parole. The reckless endangerment charge carries a three- to six-year sentence and may be served consecutively or concurrently.
Sentencing is set to take place on March 11.