Michael Darrell Hatfield

Michael Darrell Hatfield

NORRISTOWN — A 69-year-old Pottstown man will not face the death penalty if he is convicted of allegations he intentionally killed his wife by strangling her with an electrical cord as she sat in a recliner in the living room of their borough residence after an argument.

Michael Darrell Hatfield, of the 300 block of North Hanover Street, waived his arraignment in Montgomery County Court and pleaded not guilty to charges of first- and third-degree murder and possessing an instrument of crime in connection with the April 8 death of his wife, Mary, 71, inside the apartment they shared.

It is during an arraignment proceeding that prosecutors must notify the judge if they intend to seek the death penalty in the event of a conviction of first-degree murder, which is an intentional killing.

“After consulting the statute and legal requirements and speaking with the victim’s family, we felt that the death penalty was not appropriate in this case, so we are not seeking the death penalty,” explained county Assistant District Attorney Richard Howard Bradbury Jr., who is being assisted by co-prosecutor Lauren Marvel.

Under state law, first-degree murder is punishable by either life imprisonment or death by lethal injection.

In order to obtain the death penalty, prosecutors must show that aggravating factors – circumstances that make a killing more heinous – outweigh any mitigating factors – circumstances that favor a defendant. Specifically, prosecutors have about 18 aggravating factors, under state law, which they can use to seek the death penalty.

Judge Cheryl Austin scheduled Hatfield’s trial to begin with jury selection on May 7, 2021. The trial is expected to last several days. A pretrial hearing is scheduled for April 12.

Hatfield is represented by defense lawyer Carrie Lynn Allman.

A conviction of third-degree murder, which is a killing committed with malice, carries a possible maximum sentence of 20 to 40 years in prison.

The investigation began about 11:03 a.m. April 10 when Pottstown police responded to the couple’s apartment after Hatfield allegedly placed a 911 call and told a dispatcher that he “had an argument with his wife” and that he “hurt his wife,” 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 alleged in the arrest affidavit.

Hatfield allegedly told arriving officers, “I strangled her.” Officers found the victim lying face down on the living room floor with signs of decomposition, according to the criminal complaint.

A subsequent autopsy determined the victim’s cause of death was strangulation.

During an interview by detectives, Hatfield allegedly stated he had an argument with his wife on Wednesday evening, April 8.

At a preliminary hearing earlier this year, Richard testified that Hatfield claimed his wife called him a name and he became enraged.

“Hatfield said he then removed an ‘orange’ colored electrical extension cord from closet and walked behind Mary Hatfield as she sat in her recliner,” Fischer and Richard alleged in the arrest affidavit. “Hatfield told detectives he wrapped the cord around her neck, pulled it with both his hands until Mary Hatfield stopped moving.”

During a search of the residence, detectives recovered an orange extension cord, a bloody towel and bedsheet in a trash can in the apartment, according to the arrest affidavit. Detectives also observed “blood smears” on the right arm rest of a recliner inside the living room, court papers indicated.

At the time of Hatfield’s arrest, District Attorney Kevin R. Steele characterized the alleged incident as a “horrible case of the worst end result of domestic violence.”

The alleged killing occurred at the height of the coronavirus outbreak while stay-at-home orders, issued by state health officials, were in effect.

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