May 17, 2017, Atlanta - Jeffrey Hazelwood, right, is brought into court before a sentencing in Atlanta, Georgia, on Wednesday, May 17, 2017. Hazelwood plans to plead guilty to all charges involving the murder of Carter Davis and Natalie Henderson, (DAVID BARNES / DAVID.BARNES@AJC.COM)
Photo: David Barnes
Photo: David Barnes

Hazelwood gets life in prison for killing teens behind Roswell Publix

She loved to play the guitar and sing and had a soft spot for animals. Natalie Henderson was creative and planned to become an architect.

He was athletically gifted, liked to give bear hugs and loved adventure. Carter Davis wanted to be an engineer.

Both 17, full of life and dreams. Natalie and Carter hadn’t yet started their final year of high school when the two met behind the King Plaza Publix. There, the two were approached by a long-haired man they didn’t know. Minutes later, Jeffrey Hazelwood shot both teens in the head with his grandfather’s gun, killing them.

On Wednesday morning, Hazelwood pleaded guilty but mentally ill to two counts of murder in the deaths of Natalie and Carter. Hazelwood, 20, was then sentenced to life in prison.

GALLERY: Hazelwood pleads guilty to murders

RELATED: Hazelwood said he wasn’t getting medication in jail

Family and friends of both teenagers filled the courtroom Wednesday for the day they’d awaited for more than nine months. The mothers of both Natalie and Carter each read emotional statements to the court as other relatives wiped away tears.

“Carter and Natalie were not supposed to leave this Earth on Aug. 1,” Michele Davis told the court.

The gruesome crimes shocked the north Fulton County community. Who could have killed the pair, and why?

The teenagers had presumably wanted privacy, romantic time together just hours before Carter would head to River Ridge High School. Natalie still had a week left of summer before returning to Roswell High School.

Through quick detective work, Roswell investigators identified their suspect and arrested him within 48 hours. But Hazelwood couldn’t initially offer a reason why.

After his arrest, Hazelwood described to investigators how he’d parked in front of the store and walked behind the building, where he saw the teenagers’ cars. He wanted to secretly watch the couple, he told police, so he climbed an electrical box and then scaled the wall of the Publix, pulling himself onto the roof.

For the next 20 minutes, from his perch atop the store, Hazelwood said he watched Carter and Natalie in the back of her SUV before climbing down from the roof. Hazelwood then opened the door of Natalie’s SUV with one hand while holding a gun with the other. Hazelwood first shot and killed Davis, he said, before he told police he sexually assaulted Henderson, then shot and killed her too. He put her body in a provocative position before leaving the murder scene, according to investigators.

After the shootings, Hazelwood left briefly and then returned to steal Henderson’s bank card, which he later used, according to police. It was surveillance camera footage from the Publix shopping center and a nearby gas station that led investigators to Hazelwood.

A gas station camera recorded a man with the same clothes as the suspect seen in surveillance video from the Publix shopping center, according to police. At the gas station, Hazelwood was wearing a Guy Fawkes-style mask of the sort made popular in the movie “V for Vendetta.”

Hazelwood was still wearing the mask, held in place by a piece of elastic around his head, when he went back to the Publix — his third trip to the shopping center in less than two hours. This time, he helped himself to jumper cables that belonged to Davis, according to police. Within 48 hours, Hazelwood was in custody, charged with killing Natalie and Carter.

Hazelwood initially claimed he’d been coerced into killing the teens by someone he called “Matt.” But investigators found no evidence anyone else was involved. His grandparents convinced him to tell the truth, and Hazelwood admitted to detectives what he’d done.

For several months while being held at the Fulton County jail, Hazelwood wasn’t being given the proper medication needed for his mental illnesses, he told his attorneys and Judge Shawn LaGrua. In February, Hazelwood was moved to Central State Hospital in Milledgeville, where he has remained.

Earlier this month, doctors testified about Hazelwood’s diagnosis and extensive history of mental illness at his competency hearing. The hearing could have been closed to the public due to the private information being disclosed. But it was Hazelwood who told LaGrua he wanted the hearing to be public.

A judge sentenced Jeffrey Hazelwood to life in prison without parole for the murder of two teenagers behind a Roswell grocery store.

He isn’t a monster, he says.

By the time Hazelwood was 3, his grandparents and doctors noted concerning behaviors, according to a clinical psychologist. In 2001, he was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome and ADHD, and as he got older, Hazelwood had more difficulty with anger management, according to Dr. Christian Hildreth. Hazelwood was hospitalized multiple times in 2012 and again in 2015.

For three years prior to the August killings, Hazelwood was being treated by Dr. Selig Cynman, an Alpharetta psychiatrist. During that period, Hazelwood had 82 sessions with him, said Cynman, who prescribed medication to treat his mental illness. Cynman told the court Hazelwood reported hallucinations and paranoia, including the belief that cameras were watching him inside the home where he lived with his grandparents.

Medication helped Hazelwood control the voices only he could hear, along with the paranoia, delusions and sadness — but only if he took it. He was not taking his medication the morning he killed Natalie and Carter.

“It wasn’t me, even if it was me,” Hazelwood told LaGrua at his competency hearing.

But on Wednesday, Hazelwood admitted in court that he’d killed the teenagers, speaking softly to confirm he understood what his plea meant. After hearing the words from the mothers of Natalie and Carter, LaGrua spoke to both families directly, reminding them that neither teen will soon be forgotten.

“This case will have a lasting impact on many different issues and causes,” she said.

Through one of his attorneys, Hazelwood offered a simple apology. He is remorseful for his actions, attorney Brad Gardner said.

The hearing concluded with more hugs and tears. Outside the courthouse, Natalie’s father, Tad, spoke on behalf of both families, thanking investigators, the district attorney’s office and their community for support.

“Justice and resolution for Natalie and Carter provides some relief,” he said.

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