NORRISTOWN — A jury determined a Pottstown man acted with a “specific intent to kill” when he used an orange electrical cord to strangle his wife to death after an argument inside their borough apartment.
Michael Darrell Hatfield, 70, of the 300 block of North Hanover Street, showed no emotion on Tuesday as a Montgomery County jury convicted him of charges of first-degree murder, which is an intentional killing, and possessing an instrument of crime in connection with the April 8, 2020, death of his 71-year-old wife, Mary.
The jury deliberated for nearly two hours and rejected the lesser charge of third-degree murder, which is a killing committed with malice, a hardness of heart and extreme indifference for the value of human life.
Judge William R. Carpenter immediately sentenced Hatfield to life imprisonment, a mandatory term under state law for a first-degree murder conviction.
Hatfield, who told detectives he killed his wife after she verbally abused him and called him a derogatory name, turned down a request to address the court before the sentence was imposed.
Hatfield showed no outward emotion as the victim’s daughters and grandchildren, who were not biologically related to Hatfield but who once thought of him as family, provided victim impact statements at the sentencing hearing. The relatives wore T-shirts embossed with Mary Hatfield’s photo and the words “R.I.P. Mom and #JusticeForMary” and described the victim as “a woman who was deeply loved and deeply missed.”
“Our lives will never be the same. You took a huge piece of our hearts. We are all praying that my mom can rest in peace now,” Anna Butterfield, the victim’s daughter, testified.
Hatfield did not testify during the trial.
Assistant District Attorney Lauren Marvel and co-prosecutor Christopher Daniels sought a first-degree murder conviction, arguing Hatfield had a “specific intent to kill” when he strangled his wife. Prosecutors argued Hatfield’s conduct was “willful, deliberate and premeditated.”
Marvel began her closing argument on Tuesday by dramatically twisting the orange electrical cord in her hands and standing silent before the jury for 70 seconds — the minimum time, according to testimony, that it would have taken for Mary Hatfield to lose consciousness and die.
“He had 70 seconds to change his mind. Premeditation can be formed quickly. This is a first-degree murder case,” Marvel argued. “The defendant was tired of how his wife talked to him so he silenced her forever.”
But defense lawyer Carrie L. Allman argued Hatfield did not act with intent and she focused on Hatfield’s confession that he “snapped.”
“He was angry and he snapped, and that is not first-degree murder,” Allman, the chief homicide lawyer for the public defender’s office, argued during her closing statement to jurors. “They were arguing and she called him names. He snapped. It is anger. It is passion. It might be malicious but it’s not a specific intent to kill.”
Testimony revealed the couple, while married 37 years, had periods of separation and while living on a fixed income had struggles in their relationship that were complicated by the victim’s medical problems.
Several relatives testified that they observed the couple argue “back and forth,” calling each other names during the marriage, but that they never observed any physical abuse.
The couple, according to testimony, had been “bickering” about Mary’s medications on the day of the killing.
While Hatfield did not address the court during the sentencing hearing, Allman spoke on his behalf.
“This is a terrible incident. Mr. Hatfield is not a terrible person. Mr. Hatfield is more than one night,” said Allman, pointing out Hatfield served his country during the Vietnam War and sustained a wound to his foot during his service.
The investigation began about 11:03 a.m. April 10 when Pottstown police responded to the couple’s apartment after Hatfield placed a 911 call and told a dispatcher that he “had an argument with his wife” and that he “hurt his wife” on April 8, according to a criminal complaint filed by Pottstown Detective Anthony N. Fischer and county Detective Todd Richard.
“When asked what type of injury his wife sustained, Hatfield replied, ‘strangulation,’” Fischer and Richard wrote in the arrest affidavit.
Prosecutors wrapped up their case on Tuesday with testimony from Richard who took a five-page statement from Hatfield shortly after he was taken into custody.
“He was even-tempered and unemotional the whole time,” Richard testified, referring to Hatfield’s demeanor.
During the interview by detectives, Hatfield stated he had an argument with his wife on the evening of April 8, during which she called him a name. Hatfield claimed he told his wife to “calm down” but the verbal abuse continued.
Hatfield said unbeknownst to his wife he removed an orange electrical extension cord from a closet and approached his wife from behind as she sat in her recliner. Hatfield said his wife never saw him coming as he placed the electrical cord around her neck for a short period of time.
“I wrapped it around her neck and pulled with both hands until she stopped moving. She went limp,” Hatfield said in his statement.
Jurors also viewed a video recording, to which Hatfield consented, during which he demonstrated for detectives how he strangled his wife. During the demonstration, Hatfield used a computer cord and a Pottstown detective posed as Mary Hatfield sitting in a chair.
Hatfield moved his wife’s body to the floor and covered her with a blanket and kept her there for two days before calling the police.
At the time of Hatfield’s arrest, District Attorney Kevin R. Steele characterized the incident as a “horrible case of the worst end result of domestic violence.”
The killing occurred at the height of the coronavirus outbreak while stay-at-home orders, issued by state health officials, were in effect.
Source: Berkshire mont