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Weeki Wachee man receives life sentence for murder of his daughter-in-law

Brett Hattenbrun, convicted of second-degree murder in March in the death of his daughter-in-law, Joey Hattenbrun, is removed from the courtroom after sentencing Thursday by Hernando County Circuit Judge Daniel B. Merritt Jr.

OCTAVIO JONES | Times

Brett Hattenbrun, convicted of second-degree murder in March in the death of his daughter-in-law, Joey Hattenbrun, is removed from the courtroom after sentencing Thursday by Hernando County Circuit Judge Daniel B. Merritt Jr.

BROOKSVILLE — He never spoke a word at his trial, but Brett Hattenbrun had plenty to say Thursday as he was sentenced for the beating death of his daughter-in-law, Joey Hattenbrun, 30.

For nearly an hour, Hattenbrun read a rambling statement from a legal pad before Hernando County Circuit Judge Daniel B. Merritt Jr.

He said he wasn't the killer. Rather, he said, he had become the victim of a "bunch of lies from dishonest detectives" who forced him to make a false confession to the crime.

Merritt was not moved. He sentenced Hattenbrun to life in prison for second-degree murder, plus 105 years for convictions on six counts of aggravated assault, two counts of making or throwing a destructive device and one count of theft.

The 63-year-old former corrections officer from Weeki Wachee originally had been charged with premeditated first-degree murder, but a 12-member jury decided in March that the evidence failed to support that charge.

Dressed in an orange jail jumpsuit, Hattenbrun barely acknowledged a small group of Joey Hattenbrun's family members and friends who spoke from a podium during the proceedings.

Joey Hattenbrun's mother, Carolyn Crouch, recalled the night she was greeted by her daughter's father-in-law after learning that her body had been discovered in the driveway of her home on Owl Road near Weeki Wachee.

"Little did I know I was hugging Joey's murderer," she said as she glanced in Brett Hattenbrun's direction. "You're a monster. You have no remorse. No one will miss you."

During the trial, prosecutors Bill Catto and Rich Buxman sought to prove that Brett Hattenbrun had murder on his mind when he went to the home the victim shared with his son, Chad, on the night of Sept. 16, 2011.

According to testimony, Brett Hattenbrun told Hernando County sheriff's detectives — after many denials during a 10-hour interview — that he confronted his daughter-in-law after she returned home from her shift as a pharmacy technician at a Brooksville CVS store. He suspected she had been cheating on his son.

When she attempted to call police, Hattenbrun grabbed her cellphone. When she kicked him in the groin, he picked up a metal pipe from the bed of a nearby truck and beat her until she crumpled to the ground. He then scattered the contents of her purse on the ground to make the attack look like a robbery and dumped the pipe and gloves in a trash bin.

Eleven days later, Hernando sheriff's Sgt. Phil Lakin and four other officers attempted to serve a search warrant at Brett Hattenbrun's Owl Road home. But when Lakin knocked, Hattenbrun opened the door, threw a Molotov cocktail at Lakin's feet, then started shooting a nail gun. He was shot in the abdomen by a detective and surrendered.

In his statement Thursday, Hattenbrun took issue with that account and repeatedly maintained that he was incapable of such violence and had tremendous respect for law enforcement officers. In a contradictory statement, however, he admitted he "snapped" when he threw the fire bomb and fired the nail gun, hoping deputies would kill him.

At one point, Merritt interrupted Hattenbrun to tell him that his lengthy commentary "seemed to be a bit out of line" for a sentencing hearing.

He allowed him to continue, however, for a few more minutes until Hattenbrun concluded.

Logan Neill can be reached at lneill@tampabay.com or (352) 848-1435.

Weeki Wachee man receives life sentence for murder of his daughter-in-law 04/24/14 [Last modified: Thursday, April 24, 2014 8:09pm]
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