PORT ST. LUCIE — Because of his age, 17-year-old Tyler Hadley will not face the death penalty if he’s convicted in the brutal slaying of his parents, officials with the State Attorney’s Office confirmed Tuesday.
If he's eventually convicted of first-degree murder -- the charges prosecutors intend to seek from a grand jury -- Hadley could be ordered to serve a maximum penalty of life in prison.
Hadley, the Port St. Lucie teen accused of posting an invitation to a party on Facebook, then killing his parents with a hammer, made his first appearance before a judge Tuesday morning.
Chief Assistant State Attorney Tom Bakkedahl said afterwards that the state's ultimate punishment can't be considered here because several years ago the U.S. Supreme Court determined "it would be cruel and unusual to subject minors to the death penalty." he said.
"It’s simply off the table; it’s not a viable option," Bakkedahl said Tuesday. "Despite the fact that the case may otherwise in all respects warrant the death penalty, we are prohibited from seeking it as a result of him being approximately six-months short of his 18th birthday."
In the next month, prosecutors will convene a grand jury to seek indictments of first-degree murder against the 17-year-old Port St. Lucie youth, who authorities say killed his parents on Saturday.
Police accuse Hadley of killing his parents Blake and Mary Jo Hadley. Their bodies were found in their locked bedroom in the 300 block of Northeast Granduer Avenue on Sunday morning.
Hadley was initially arrested as a juvenile, but Monday he was charged as an adult of two counts of 2nd-degree murder with a weapon and is being held on no bond at the St. Lucie County jail.
Bakkedahl, who was attending the Hadley autopsies at the Medical Examiner’s office in Fort Pierce, said state law requires the case be presented to a grand jury in order to seek first-degree murder charges.
Based on the criminal investigation conducted by Port St. Lucie police, Bakkedahl said evidence gathered supports charges of first-degree murder.
"I think it’s going to be a clear first-degree murder case," he said. "The only difference between this and any other first-degree murder case is as a result of his age, he does not face the prospect of the death penalty."
Hadley was wearing a sleeveless black jail uniform as he appeared via video conference from the St. Lucie County Jail in front of a judge at the St. Lucie County Courthouse.
Hadley told the judge he didn't have an attorney, so the judge appointed a public defender to represent the teen.
Hadley had his head down when the judge told him bond would be denied
Early Sunday morning, Port St. Lucie police received an anonymous tip indicating a 17-year-old might have killed his parents and the bodies had been in the home during a party attended by as many as 60 people. Police went to the home about 4:20 a.m. Sunday.
There police found a hammer between the bodies of Mary Jo Hadley, 47, and 54-year-old Blake Hadley. Tyler Hadley was arrested late Sunday.
The case has been featured prominently by national and international media -- Tuesday morning network news shows had reports with video from Port St. Lucie. The TODAY show with Matt Lauer had a reporter speaking live in front of the Hadleys' Granduer Avenue home.
People magazine had the Port St. Lucie killings among its top stories on its website. The story was the second-most-read item on NYDailyNews.com Tuesday morning. The Daily Mail of London played the story prominently on the Web, with photos and video.
"It was a merciless killing. It was brutal and the Facebook invitation — a party to have your friends and 40 to 60 people come over — I think speaks for itself," Port St. Lucie police Capt. Don Kryak said, standing at the scene Monday. "The blunt force trauma to the head and torso with a 22-inch framing hammer can effect a considerable amount of injury."
Police believe Tyler Hadley acted alone, but officials don't know a motive. The former St. Lucie West Centennial High School student made no incriminating statements.
Kryak said the Facebook party invitation was posted about 1:15 p.m. or 1:30 p.m. Saturday — before the homicides occurred. Investigators suspect Tyler Hadley's mother was killed first, and then his father, and that the slayings happened outside the master bedroom door of the single-story home in the 300 block of Northeast Granduer Avenue.
Items including books, files and towels covered the bodies, and the hammer was found between them.
When police arrived, Tyler Hadley greeted them.
"He was nervous ... just very nervous when we arrived to do the welfare check," Kryak said. "He just said that his parents were out of town."
Blake Hadley was an employee of Florida Power & Light Co. and worked at the St. Lucie Nuclear Plant, according to Doug Andrews, FPL spokesman.
"Our prayers are with the Hadley family at this time," Andrews said.
Maurice Hadley of Stuart, Blake Hadley's father, said his son — who he described as a gentle giant at 6 feet, 4 inches tall and 300 pounds — was weeks away from celebrating 30 years of employment with FPL.
"He enjoyed his job," Maurice Hadley said. "He was a watch engineer."
Mark Ankrom, Blake Hadley’s nephew, said, “He was a good man, a very good man. Not a mean bone in his body and I just can’t believe something like this would happen.”
Longtime elementary school teacher
Mary Jo Hadley worked 24 years as an elementary school teacher with the St. Lucie County School District, with her last six years being at Village Green Environmental Studies School. Maurice Hadley described her as "the best daughter-in-law you could have."
"The St. Lucie County School District family is deeply saddened at the tragic loss of one of our valued colleagues," the district said in an emailed statement. "Our thoughts and prayers are with the family."
Kryak said an older brother of Tyler Hadley moved out a couple of months ago.
The Hadleys had attended a family reunion in Georgia earlier this month, Maurice Hadley said.
"It was a time for us to enjoy family from Indiana, Minnesota and Florida," he said. "I didn't see any indication there were any problems between Tyler and his parents. We're still in disbelief and we're still waiting to learn more."
The couple lived in their residence on Northeast Granduer Avenue for at least the past 10 years.
"I've known Mary Jo since she was in high school in Fort Lauderdale. They are a nice family. The kids are always nice. They used to come to our house trick-or-treating and they always called me Miss Charlie," said Charlene Moses, a family friend.
The relationship Tyler Hadley had with his parents and the family dynamics were unclear.
"That's certainly something we want to dive into a little bit more and get a better understanding of what actually takes place in the house," Kryak said.
'Always a good kid'
Neighbor Raeann Wallace, 64, said Tyler Hadley was "always a good kid," but said she hadn't seen him for about a year.
"I used to see him getting off the bus and walking home, and a couple of times we'd go on vacation, I'd say, 'Hey Tyler, watch my house, don't let anybody bother my house,'" Wallace said. "Then all of a sudden, I just never saw him anymore."
Wallace said the Hadleys had lived next door since before Tyler Hadley was born.
Police went to the home early Sunday morning for a noise complaint, but there was no reason for police to enter the home, said Officer Tom Nichols, police spokesman. The party apparently was winding up at the time.
A guest at the party, Mike Young, told WPTV NewsChannel 5 he does not know Tyler Hadley well. "There was a good 50 people that were here (Saturday) night," he said.
Police went to the home again about 4:20 a.m. after the anonymous tip indicating a 17-year-old might have killed his parents and the bodies were in the home.
Nichols said Tyler Hadley as of Monday afternoon was at the St. Lucie Regional Juvenile Detention Center on Bell Avenue in Fort Pierce.
Kryak asked that anyone who attended the party call police at 772-871-5000.
Staff writers Will Greenlee, Joe Crankshaw, Lamaur Stancil and Matt Prichard and Giovanna Drpic of WPTV NewsChannel 5 contributed to this report.