Supreme Court decision could save Wesley Hadsell
from 15-year sentence, experts say

By Scott Daugherty, The Virginian-Pilot – 6/26/2016


A Supreme Court ruling handed down Thursday could save Wesley Hadsell from a minimum 15-year sentence on a charge he illegally bought ammunition, according to experts in federal law.

Federal prosecutors have argued Hadsell – the stepfather of an 18-year-old woman who disappeared last year only to be found dead later – should be considered an armed career criminal and face the 15-year minimum that designation requires.

But law professors and appellate lawyers said Friday the Supreme Court’s decision in Mathis v. United States will make it harder, and perhaps impossible, to successfully use the sentencing enhancement against Hadsell.

“My sense is, this decision is very good news for Mr. Hadsell,” said L. Steven Emmert, an appellate lawyer based in Virginia Beach who publishes Virginia Appellate News and Analysis.

Brandon Garrett, a professor at the University of Virginia School of Law added, “It is going to be a tougher argument for prosecutors now.”

Without the designation, Hadsell would face 10 years at most – and probably less.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Benjamin Hatch and Jason Dunn, Hadsell’s attorney, declined to comment on the Mathis decision. Both men plan to file additional paperwork with the court in the coming weeks regarding how they believe the decision should be interpreted in Virginia.

The prosecution’s problem is that the Armed Career Criminal Act requires a defendant to have at least three convictions on his record for violent felonies. Prosecutors have argued an old burglary conviction in Virginia should count against Hadsell.

In the Mathis decision, however, the Supreme Court ruled a conviction for violating a similar burglary statute in Iowa shouldn’t count against another defendant.

“It is very much like the Virginia statute,” Emmert said of the Iowa law.

Garrett noted that there is a simpler burglary statute in Virginia that more closely aligns with the commonly accepted definition of burglary. He said prosecutors would have an easier time securing the 15 years if Hadsell had been convicted of that crime, instead of the other.

This dispute is not new. In previous court filings, Hatch had argued Hadsell’s record qualified for the sentencing enhancement, and Dunn had argued it did not.

Anjelica “AJ” Hadsell, Hadsell’s stepdaughter, was found dead in April 2015 near an abandoned home in Southampton County. The cause was acute heroin poisoning, but the manner – whether it was accidental, suicide or homicide – is unknown.

Hadsell pleaded guilty in November to the ammunition charge. According to court documents, he bought Winchester .40-caliber and Luger 9 mm ammunition in December 2013 from Bob’s Gun Shop in Norfolk. He also confessed to going to a gun range in Chesapeake and firing some of it.

Detectives found about 80 rounds of ammunition inside Hadsell’s hotel room, court documents said.

In addition to the federal case, Hadsell faces a state charge related to heroin recovered from his hotel room. His attorney argues the drugs were found days later, after someone else had rented the room.

Scott Daugherty, 757-446-2343,