After almost 10 months, the families of Natalie Henderson and Carter Davis, shed tears and embraced after Jeffrey Hazelwood was sentenced in a Fulton County courtroom on Wednesday.
Hazelwood plead"guilty, but mentally ill," and was sentenced to life without parole in the murders of Henderson and Davis, both 17.
Both families were present in the courtroom on May 17 and read impact statements about the loss of their children, Natalie and Carter.
Jeffrey Hazelwood sat and listened after entering a plea of "guilty, but mentally ill" in the murders of Henderson and Davis, both 17.
Natalie Henderson’s family spoke first, her mother, Suzanne, spoke of the “unimaginable pain and anguish our family and friends have endured since the moment we found out she was taken from us on August 1, 2016.”
"Natalie had a favorite way of communicating love and friendship without words. She felt a hug could convey what couldn't be expressed verbally. These were always heartfelt and she let us know she looked forward to giving us lasting hugs. None of us will ever be able to feel the warmth and tenderness of her welcoming embrace again in our lifetime,” she said.
"She had so much more to give and experience in her life. She will never get the chance to change the world for the better," she said.
Carter Davis's mother, Michele Hurley Davis, next spoke, accompanied by his father, Jeremy, questioning how she could write the impact of losing her child.
"How can I explain Carter's love of family and what it would be like to have it gone? How can I say what the impact is to not to have his smile, giant hugs and spirit of adventure? How can I tell you the impact on our life of not having this incredible energy, who is always all in, gone and absent forever,” she questioned.
Davis also recollected the celebration of his life on his birthday, July 29, just days before his death and how grateful she was for the impact he made in his short 17 years of life.
"He loved everyone for who they were and how they needed it, he didn't judge and hated drama. He was honest to a fault at times, but loved greatly,” said his mom.
Both families expressed how they would never see what their children would become or the impact they would make.
LaGrua stated she wanted to make observations before rendering her ruling.
“Mrs. Henderson, you said Natalie would never change the world, she already has. This case will have a lasting impact on many different issues and causes. It may not have been the way she wanted to impact the world or the way you thought she would, but she has. She has impacted every person that has been in this courtroom from the very first day that I handled this case. She will continue to impact the world, I truly wish from the bottom of my heart it was in a different way, but she has,”
“To the Davis family, you indicated you found some light. Carter will continue to bring some light and just like Natalie, has made a lasting impact,” said Judge LaGrua, who stated they will remain an inspiration to her.
“I can’t fix it, I can’t pretend to understand it and I can’t imagine what all of you all are going through. You have my sincere prayers and condolences,” said LaGrua, who then turned to address Hazelwood.
“You’ve had some challenges, significant ones, that doesn’t change what has happened or the terrible impact your actions have caused the families. With that said, you should be commended for taking responsibility and not putting folks through more and more of these proceedings,” said LaGrua.
Hazelwood entered a plea of “guilty, but mentally ill” after LaGrua ruled Hazelwood competent to stand trial on May 10.
While Hazelwood did not give a statement on May 17, according to the competency hearing order, “stated that he wanted the competency hearing to be open to the public so people would know that 'it wasn't me, even if it was me,' and because he didn't want to be 'seen as a monster."
Hazelwood's attorney, Brad Gardner expressed that by entering this plea, his client will receive the proper treatment and medication.
Both families embraced after LaGrua accepted the "guilty, but mentally ill" plea and sentenced Hazelwood to life without the possibility of parole.
“He is very mentally ill and a plea of ‘guilty, but mentally ill’ requires the Department of Corrections to treat him for his illness. If he had entered a straight guilty plea, it could have been months and who knows what would have happened. He is very remorseful for what happened, he was off his medications at the time and started having hallucinations,” said Gardner after the sentencing.
“Roswell Police Department and Fulton County District Attorney’s office deserve great credit and appreciation in helping to secure our goal of a quick conviction and a sentence of life without the possibility of parole,” said Tad Henderson, Natalie’s father, in a statement.
Henderson credited all involved for keeping the families “well informed throughout and have been very mindful of the torment that the loss of Natalie and Carter has caused our family, the Davis family and their many friends and instructors.”
“We especially wish to thank Chief Grant, Detective Bennett and Deputy District Attorney Dunikoski, their teams and the court for their diligence and compassion. Justice and a resolution for Natalie and Carter provides some relief. Their lives had and will continue to have great meaning for all of us,” said Natalie’s father.
MDJOnline.com will provide more details of the case as it becomes available.