By: Julia Varnier
NORFOLK, Va. (Court TV/Scripps News Norfolk) — A Virginia man was sentenced to 35 years in prison for scalding and killing his girlfriend’s daughter.
John Tucker Hardee, 38, was sentenced May 26 for the 2018 death of Harley Williams. He was was convicted last summer of second-degree murder, felony child neglect and malicious wounding.
At trial, prosecutors said Hardee was home alone with the two-year-old on April 24, 2018, while her mother, Shelby Rae Love, was at work. That day, he texted Love to hurry home to her daughter and that he was “going to prison.”
At some point that afternoon, Harley was scalded and suffered third-degree burns to 30% of her body, mostly to her back, extremities, and left ear. When Love arrived home, Hardee claimed Harley was burned because the bathtub water was too hot.
Love did not believe the burns were significant so, rather than take Harley to the hospital, the pair attempted to medicate Harley with a combination of Tylenol, gauze, Pedialyte, lidocaine and apple cider vinegar for the rest of the night. Around 3:30 a.m. on April 24, 2018, Hardee called 911 when he noticed Harley was unresponsive, shaking and having trouble breathing.
When medics arrived, they observed Harley having a seizure and suffering from burns so severe that her skin had begun sloughing off, police explained. Harley was pronounced dead shortly after being transported to the Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters.
Harley’s autopsy also revealed blunt force injuries throughout her body, including a 7-inch contusion to the back of her head and a large bruise to her abdomen accompanied by an internal injury to her small intestine. There was also a toxic amount of lidocaine detected in Harley’s blood, officials detailed.
A pediatrician specializing in child abuse testified during Hardee’s trial that Harley had immersion burn injuries, but also that there were no splash marks and that her injuries were consistent with lying immobile in a bathtub.
Hardee was sentenced to a total of 45 years in prison: 10 years to serve for child neglect, 10 years to serve for malicious wounding, and 25 years, with 10 years suspended, for second-degree murder. Hardee’s suspended sentence is conditioned upon 10 years of supervised probation upon his release from prison, during which time he is to have no contact with minors.
Hardee’s active sentence is six years over the high end of his sentencing guidelines.
In 2014, Hardee was convicted in Virginia Beach of strangling a different woman and abusing his son, whose blunt force injuries at the time were similar to Harley’s, police explained.
Hardee was sentenced to 15 years in prison, with 12 years suspended conditioned upon uniform good behavior and a period of indefinite supervised probation. He now awaits a probation violation hearing in Virginia Beach Circuit Court.
Love, 28, was indicted for child abuse or neglect and felony homicide on Nov. 7, 2018, for her role in Harley’s death by not providing adequate care to her daughter following her injuries. She pleaded guilty to both charges on Oct. 28, 2020, and Judge David W. Lannetti accepted her plea. Love’s sentencing is scheduled for June 23, 2023.
“The violence John Hardee inflicted on little Harley – the burns he forced her to suffer and the ‘treatment’ of her injuries that was worse than torture – is one of the most depraved I have seen in my career,” said Commonwealth’s Attorney Ramin Fatehi. “Little Harley lived her last hours in agony. Had she gotten medical help, she might have lived. Instead, she suffered, and she died. Mr. Hardee has earned his sentence. We will remember Harley.”
This story was originally published by Scripps News Norfolk, an E.W. Scripps Company.