On July 28, 1987, the body of 30-year-old Susan Woods was found by her father at her Stephenville, Texas, home, partially submerged in the bathtub. The medical examiner determined that she died of asphyxiation caused by either strangulation or drowning and had died two to three days prior, the Stephenville Empire-Tribune reported.
Woods’ murder remained unsolved for 20 years until new DNA technology allowed Stephenville Police Department Lt. Don Miller to identify a suspect, Joseph Scott Hatley, based on fingerprints found at the crime scene, the outlet reported. Authorities were surprised that DNA from cigarette butts and fingerprints matched Hatley’s because he hadn’t been on their radar until that point, the Empire-Tribune wrote.
Hatley, who was the cousin of Woods’ best friend, was charged with her murder while in jail facing aggravated sexual assault charges in another case, the outlet reported. He confessed to Woods’ murder a week before his trial in 2007 and was sentenced to 30 years in prison.
Where is Joseph Scott Hatley, Susan Woods’ convicted killer, today?
Hatley Was Released From Prison in 2018 After Serving Only 11 Years of a 30-Year Sentence
In 2007, Hatley was sentenced to 30 years in prison after he confessed to killing Woods in 1987, but he was released after only 11 years in 2018, the Empire-Tribune reported in August 2018. According to the outlet, Hatley was released from the Hunstville prison at the age of 52 and was heading to a Midland halfway house for several months.
Many expressed their shock at his early release, with his son Nicholas Hatley telling the Empire-Tribune he was “unsure” why Hatley got an earlier release and that he believed the community should be told about his release.
Miller, who was instrumental in Hatley’s arrest, said, “It’s not uncommon for long prison sentences to be greatly reduced due to prison overcrowding,” but expressed his disappointment at the decision. Woods’ best friend Cindy Hayes, who is Hatley’s cousin, told the outlet, “I think he is a monster. The public needs to be aware that he is out of prison.”
According to Texan News, Hatley still lives in Texas although not much is known about his life since his release from prison.
Hatley Was Accused of Rape & Attempted Murder Shortly After Woods’ Death But Was Never Indicted
Hatley was also accused of rape and attempted murder by a 16-year-old girl in Erath County about a year after Woods’ murder, but a grand jury decided not to indict him in that case. Miller spoke to that woman 20 years later while he was investigating Woods’ murder and he told the Empire-Tribune, “She was still scared and in hiding. Hatley allegedly sodomized her and nearly killed her at a roadside park on Highway 281.”
The Stephenville Empire-Tribune spoke to the victim who described what Hatley did and said while he was assaulting her he told her he had killed a woman named Susan before. She said she told the authorities everything but the grand jury did not indict him because of insufficient evidence.
She said when she heard about his early release, “My life stopped again the day he was released. This should never have happened. The justice system is broken.”