Trigger Warning: Child Abuse
Norfolk Man Sentenced to 35 Years in Prison for Scalding, Killing Girlfriend’s Toddler
NORFOLK, Va. – On April 23, 2018, John Tucker Hardee texted his live-in girlfriend, Shelby Rae Love, to hurry home to her 2-year-old daughter who was in his care and that he was "going to prison." Today, Mr. Hardee, 38, was sentenced in Norfolk Circuit Court to 35 active years in prison for abusing and murdering the toddler, Harley Williams.
Mr. Hardee was home alone with Harley while Ms. Love was at work on April 23, 2018. At some point that afternoon, Harley was scalded and suffered third-degree burns to 30 percent of her body, mostly to her back, extremities, and left ear. Mr. Hardee texted Ms. Love around 4:30 p.m. urging her to leave work, and she arrived home around 5:20 p.m.
Upon her arrival, Mr. Hardee claimed Harley was burned because the bathtub water was too hot. Ms. 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, Mr. 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. 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.
A pediatrician specializing in child abuse testified during Mr. 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.
Following a bench trial, Mr. Hardee was found guilty by Judge John R. Doyle III on July 13, 2022, of child abuse or neglect, malicious wounding, and second-degree murder.
Today, Mr. 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. Mr. 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. Mr. Hardee's active sentence is six years over the high end of his sentencing guidelines.
On April 2, 2014, Mr. 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. Mr. 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.
Ms. 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. Ms. 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."
Deputy Commonwealth's Attorney Cynthia D. Collard led the prosecution of Mr. Hardee's case on behalf of the Commonwealth.
If you have or someone you love has fallen victim to crime, including but not limited to domestic abuse, resources are available at the Norfolk Family Justice Center. For more information, please visit norfolkfjc.org, call 757-330-0376 or stop by the NFJC inside the Park Place Multi-Services Center at 606 W. 29th St., between 8:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. on weekdays. If you are in crisis, call the 24/7 hotline by dialing 757-251-0144. In an emergency, please call 911.