PRINCETON — A Princeton man will undergo a psychological evaluation before another trial date is set in connection with a 2019 shooting death.
Darrell Wesley Hazelwood, 47, is charged with first-degree murder in the fatal shooting of Tessa Hill on Murdock Street in August.
A trail date had been set for Jan. 28. However, at a pre-trial hearing Thursday, defense attorney Joe Harvey asked Mercer County Circuit Court Judge Derek Swope for the evaluation.
“Right now, I am not sure he is competent (to stand trial),” Harvey said.
Swope said he can’t try the case until everything is done to prepare for it so he granted the request.
“We will keep Jan. 28 as a status hearing,” he said. “Get the evaluation back and we will look at it on the 28th.”
Swope said he will rule on that day whether he is competent to stand trial and proceed from there.
“You have got to get it right the first time, and that takes time,” he said.
The incident occurred on Aug. 10 and allegedly was started by an argument about $40.
According to testimony at a preliminary hearing, Hill and her boyfriend, Ronnie Ferrell, had been living with Hazelwood before the shooting occurred.
Hill’s father, Larry James White of Princeton, testified about the events which led up her death outside his Murdock Street home. Questioned by Prosecuting Attorney George Sitler during the preliminary hearing, White said his daughter called him about 8 p.m. from Melrose Square and asked him to pick her up, but before he could leave Hill called back and said she had a ride to his home.
When Hill and Ferrell arrived at White’s home, she came into the house while Ferrell stayed outside in his Jeep, White stated. Then Hill went outside and White said that he went outside to see what was happening.
“When I came out there was an altercation and (Ferrell) and the defendant were in a fight,” White recalled, adding that this fight started at the end of his driveway and then proceeded out into Murdock Street.
“When I got outside Ronnie had the defendant (Hazelwood) on the ground,” White testified. “They were tussling back and forth.”
Ferrell ended up on top of Hazelwood, pounding his head against the pavement, and Hill was trying to pull Ferrell off of him, White said.
Hazelwood then reached behind himself into his waistband, pulled out a gun, cocked it, and fired at Ferrell, White stated. Ferrell fell back and White thought he had been hit.
Hazelwood said, “This will teach you to double team me (expletive),” White testified. “He shot Tessa. She was on the ground. He aimed at me... then he dropped it and he turned and ran like a coward.”
“Did you see him make any preparations?” Sitler asked.
“I saw him slide it (gun) and he shot it,” White replied. “I thought Ronnie had been hit. He shot one shot at Tessa. He fired two shots.”
White said he saw Hazelwood turn and aim at Hill after Ferrell had fallen down.
“It happened...” White snapped his fingers. “... like that.”
Hill was bleeding from the head when her father saw she had been hit.
‘I did everything I could to comfort her,” White recalled.
Attorney Stephanie Pfeifer, who was representing Hazelwood with attorney Joe Harvey, asked White about the events leading up to the shooting. White said while he was talking to his daughter on the phone, she seemed upset and said, “I’m torn up.”
“What did that mean?” Pfeifer asked.
“I don’t know. She was very distraught on the phone,” White replied.
While Pfeifer cross-examined White, he said that Ferrell was hitting Hazelwood’s head against the pavement and Hill was trying to pull him off.
“The only thing I remember Tessa saying is, ‘My God, Dad. He’s got a gun,” White recalled, saying he pulled his daughter away from the fight.
“I probably pitched her to the ground to try and separate them,” White said, looking at Hazelwood. “Probably to save this man’s life.”
Detective Sgt. S.A. Sommers of the Mercer County Sheriff ’s Department, the case’s investigating officer, said when he arrived on the scene that a wallet with a rebel flag on it was found; it contained Hazelwood’s identification. A live round and a shell casing from a .380-caliber pistol were found. Witnesses said two shots had been fired, but a second shell casing was not found. Sommers said the gun had not been recovered. Hazelwood was apprehended on Old Athens Road about five minutes after Sommers arrived at Murdock Street.
Sommers testified that there had been an argument that evening between Hazelwood, Hill, and a third party who was not Ferrell. Sommers said it was unclear who this third person was. The argument had been about money.
“It was alleged Tessa had taken or stolen $40 from either Hazelwood or the third party,” Sommers stated.
Ferrell had given Hazelwood a ride back to his home earlier that evening. Sommers said that Ferrell recalled in his statement that “Mr. Hazelwood said he needed to slap Tessa around.”
Hazelwood’s home was approximately a mile or a mile and a half from Murdock Street, Sommers estimated while being cross-examined by Harvey.
Ferrell recalled in his statement that Hazelwood arrived at Murdock Street, grabbed Hill by the throat and shoved her against Ferrell’s Jeep, Sommers said.
“Tessa took her hips, shoved the car door and told him to stay in,” Sommers testified. “And he claims Tessa’s daughter came outside.” Then Hazelwood alleged cursed or pushed the daughter.
“Ronnie made no mention of threats?” Harvey asked.
“Not in our interview,” Sommers replied.
Gunshot residue samples were not taken from Ferrell, who had been treated by EMS workers. Sommers said gunpowder could have been on anybody involved in the altercation.
Harvey asked Sommers if he had taken a statement from Hazelwood.
“I asked,” Sommers replied.
“Did he provide a statement?” Harvey asked.
“No,” Sommers said.
Harvey asked Sommers why statements had not been taken yet from more witnesses. Sommers said that when witnesses see traumatic events, it is best to let them go through about three sleep cycles before interviewing them. He had not spoken to Tessa Hill’s daughter yet.
“The state asserts that this was a premeditated act,” Sitler said, at the preliminary hearing, adding that witnesses’ statements showed that Hazelwood had “racked” or prepared a .380-caliber pistol for firing. The statement, “I’ll show you to double team me” was a “clear indication of an intentional act.”
Harvey said his client was “under attack” when the shooting took place, and that the state’s witnesses said Hazelwood was the victim of an assault which “could have taken his life.
Hazelwood remains incarcerated at Southern Regional Jail on a $250,000 surety/cash bond.
— Contact Charles Boothe at cboothe@bdtonline. com