Father-in-law charged in Hernando County woman's fatal beating

A Hernando County Sheriff’s Office forensics specialist checks for fingerprints Sept. 19 on a truck in the driveway of the home on Owl Road where Joey Hattenbrun was beaten to death.

WILL VRAGOVIC | Times

A Hernando County Sheriff’s Office forensics specialist checks for fingerprints Sept. 19 on a truck in the driveway of the home on Owl Road where Joey Hattenbrun was beaten to death.

BROOKSVILLE — Brett Hattenbrun was angry.

Sometime around 10:30 the night of Sept. 16, authorities say, he walked from his home to his son's house, just down Owl Road about 100 yards away. Neighbors say Hattenbrun often stumbled through the neighborhood late at night, as he sipped on a cup of whiskey and walked his basset hound, Yeller.

That evening, though, investigators say he had a more specific purpose — to confront his daughter-in-law, Joey Hattenbrun, about marital problems she was having with his son, Chad. Soon after, Hernando County Sheriff Al Nienhuis told reporters Wednesday, the confrontation turned horribly violent.

Hattenbrun is accused of bludgeoning the 30-year-old as she stood in her gravel driveway, just feet from the stairs leading to her front door. To make it look like a mugging gone awry, the sheriff said, Hattenbrun stole several items from her.

Her husband came home an hour after the beating and found her bleeding on the driveway. Joey Hattenbrun, the mother of a 3-year-old boy, was flown to Bayfront Medical Center, where she died.

Detectives identified Hattenbrun within days as a prime suspect in the killing, Nienhuis said. By Tuesday, they had gathered enough evidence to search his home. Five deputies approached the small, secluded house that morning and asked him to come outside. Hattenbrun, Nienhuis said, told them he was changing clothes and would be out soon.

Seconds later, he swung the door open and tossed a flaming Molotov cocktail at deputies, creating a massive fireball. He then began firing a nail gun at them while using the door as a shield.

Neighbors heard five shots, a pause, and then five more. Detective Bryan Faulkingham shot Hattenbrun in the abdomen, and he was soon after taken to a hospital for his non-life threatening wound.

In the hours after he was hospitalized, Nienhuis said, Hattenbrun confessed. The sheriff didn't indicate whether Hattenbrun went to the home intending to kill his daughter-in-law that night or if the defendant had brought the murder weapon, described as a blunt instrument, with him. The sheriff said Hattenbrun, who is facing a charge of first-degree murder, has shown little remorse.

Hattenbrun, the sheriff said, indicated to investigators that he attacked deputies because he had hoped they would kill him, a "suicide-by-cop" situation.

"He wanted us to take his life," Nienhuis said. "The defendant alluded to that."

After the Tuesday incident at his home near Weeki Wachee, Hattenbrun was arrested on five counts of attempted first-degree murder of a law enforcement officer and three counts of throwing or possessing a destructive device with intent to harm a person.

Almost immediately after the Joey Hattenbrun's death, rumors spread throughout the neighborhood that her father-in-law was the killer.

On Sept. 20, less than a quarter mile from where Joey Hattenbrun was found bleeding, deputies searched the woods for evidence. As investigators worked at the scene, Hattenbrun drove up and stepped out of his car.

"Is this related to what happened to my son's wife?" he asked a detective.

When a Times reporter approached him, he shook his head, quickly got back in his vehicle and sped away.

People who know him described Hattenbrun as strange, angry and abrasive. They say he had lived in his home alone in recent days because soon after his daughter-in-law's death, his wife moved into Chad Hattenbrun's house.

Each morning, neighbors say, he sipped on a cup of wine and walked his basset hound around the neighborhood. At night when he walked the dog — sometimes after 10 p.m. — they say he drank whiskey.

Also, they say, he often lifted his fist when he passed neighbors and yelled, "Power to the people!"

Neighbor Don Cook, who worked as a corrections officer for 28 years in New York, told his wife just days after the homicide that he believed Hattenbrun did it.

Something was just off about him, Cook said.

Cook had only spoken to Hattenbrun once since the beating.

"Things like these," Cook said the accused killer told him, "bring the family closer together."

John Woodrow Cox can be reached at jcox@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1432.

Father-in-law charged in Hernando County woman's fatal beating 09/28/11 [Last modified: Thursday, September 29, 2011 1:12am]

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