BROOKSVILLE — Brett Hattenbrun had been cooperative, even friendly, as detectives investigated the murder of his daughter-in-law, Joey.
That changed on the morning of Sept. 27, 2011, when Hernando County sheriff's Sgt. Phil Lakin knocked on the door of Hattenbrun's home on Owl Road near Weeki Wachee and announced that the Sheriff's Office was back for another visit. This time they had a search warrant.
Hattenbrun called out that he was getting dressed. Then the door opened suddenly, and Lakin saw Hattenbrun with a look of rage on his face and a flaming bottle in his hand.
Hattenbrun tossed the Molotov cocktail at the sergeant's feet, and it exploded with a deafening roar, Lakin testified Wednesday, the second day of Hattenbrun's murder trial.
"I thought at that moment that I was going to be burned alive," Lakin said.
Moments later, a detective shot Hattenbrun in the abdomen. He was rushed to St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa, where authorities say he confessed to beating Joey Hattenbrun with a metal pipe until she stopped screaming. He was also charged with multiple counts of attempted murder of a law enforcement officer, aggravated assault and throwing a destructive device.
Prosecutors say Hattenbrun, 63, admitted to confronting Joey Hattenbrun, 30, in front of her house on the night of Sept. 16 when the CVS pharmacy technician arrived home from work. They say Hattenbrun was angry about marital problems between Joey and his son, Chad. When Joey grabbed her cellphone to call police, prosecutors say, Hattenbrun knocked the phone out of her hand. When she screamed, he started to beat her with a pipe he had grabbed from the bed of a nearby truck. She died at St. Joseph's Hospital later that night.
Assistant Public Defender Alan Fanter told jurors Tuesday that Hattenbrun was cajoled into giving a false confession and that the physical evidence collected didn't match his account. Fanter said Hattenbrun didn't want to hurt Lakin and the other officers, but wanted to provoke them into killing him.
On Wednesday, Lakin testified that he and other detectives visited Hattenbrun at his home for the first time on Sept. 22. That day, Hattenbrun told Lakin where he was the night of the attack. He said he was walking his dog when he saw a car parked on Owl Road with its high-beam headlights on. Hattenbrun said the headlights went off, and the car sped away. He said he retrieved a gun from his house and followed. Hattenbrun said the car stopped at a house, and a man with a tattoo on his leg got out. Hattenbrun said he went back to his own house, fell asleep and was awakened by a call from his wife, who told him Joey had been attacked.
When Lakin knocked on the French door of Hattenbrun's house on Sept. 27, Detective Bryan Faulkingham and Deputy Rosemary DeJesus stood nearby. Detectives John Ellis and Jill Morrell took positions at the back of the house.
Lakin, Faulkingham and DeJesus testifed that the flames from the Molotov cocktail reached higher than their heads. They scrambled for cover, and about a minute later saw what looked like the barrel of a rifle peek out from the door and move in a sweeping motion and emit a sound like muffled gunfire.
It was clear, DeJesus testified, "that we were under attack, that someone was trying to kill us."
Faulkingham and DeJesus returned fire, and one of Faulkingham's rounds caught Hattenbrun in the lower abdomen. He surrendered, and no one else was injured.
Detectives discovered Hattenbrun had been firing a nail gun connected by a hose to an air compressor in the garage.
At the hospital, Hattenbrun initially denied involvement in Joey Hattenburn's murder. Then, as Lakin was about to leave, Hattenbrun confessed, offering details about Joey Hattenbrun's injuries that only the killer would know, Lakin said.
Dr. Carlos Smith, the attending physician in the St. Joseph's emergency room, testified that Hattenbrun had hoped the day would turn out another way.
"He did tell me that he wished he was shot more times by the police officers," Smith said.
Now Hattenbrun faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison if convicted on the murder or attempted murder charges.