The trial of Joseph Scott Hatley scheduled to begin Monday has been postponed indefinitely following a motion made by the state to amend the original murder indictment.
Hatley is accused of killing Susan Jeanette Woods, a Stephenville resident, in 1987.
District Court Judge Donald Jones granted the motion Thursday morning following a hearing where District Attorney John Terrill and Assistant District Attorney Jason Cashon requested to add language to the original indictment that would allow the state to potentially argue that Woods was killed during an attempted sexual assault.
Terrill said he presented the same allegations in the amended motion to an Erath County grand jury Thursday afternoon, who then returned a “true” bill.
Hatley’s court appointed attorney, Alan Nash, expressed disappointment and frustration over the delay. He said the defense was fully prepared to go to trial on Monday, but will now have to rethink their strategy to fit the amended indictment.
“The charge is now so significantly different (than the original) that we will have to substantially rework our defense strategy,” Nash said.
Despite an intense investigation by detectives originally assigned to the case, the mystery of who killed Woods, who was 30 at the time of her death, remained unsolved for nearly two decades.
A break in the case came last year after Lieutenant Don Miller with the Stephenville Police Department began re-interviewing witnesses and examining old evidence. He took several fingerprints lifted from the crime scene to the Texas Department of Public Safety Lab in Austin and ran them through the automated fingertip identification system, where he got a match that led authorities to Hatley.
Hatley was arrested in Williamson County and brought back to Erath County last year to face a murder charge in connection with Woods’ death.
If convicted, he faces five to 99 years to life in prison.
Sara Vanden Berge covers courts, law enforcement, and business and political issues for the Empire-Tribune. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her work number is 968-2379, ext. 240.