Jury trial postponed for one of three facing triple murder charges

WHITLEY COUNTY – One of three Indiana men accused of killing a Williamsburg woman, her husband and her son in September 2017 was scheduled to have his case presented to a jury at trial Wednesday, though it has instead been continued.

The jury trial for Jeremy Hatfield, 35, was set to begin Wednesday in Whitley Circuit Court, but no jury was seated and no evidence was presented concerning the case. The trial date was set aside earlier in the week, according to Commonwealth’s Attorney Ronnie Bowling.

“Myself, defense counsel and the judge already discussed yesterday (Tuesday) and already universally agreed that there would be no trial today,” said Bowling on Wednesday.

The case had been set for trial, according to Bowling, to help expedite the numerous amounts of evidentiary items involved that require some type of laboratory testing, such as DNA evidence. Bowling said that when a particular case has a scheduled trial date that it often moves evidence relating to that case “up the priority ladder,” but stated that there is still a lot more that has yet to be finished.

A follow-up pretrial conference has been set for June 27, where he is set to appear alongside his co-defendants, Anthony Hester, 34, and Darnel Chivers, 39, for the first time.

Bowling said that he plans to to give Hester and Chivers a notice of intent from prosecutors to seek the death penalty during next month’s proceedings. A similar notice has already been given to Hatfield.

No new trial date has been set.

Emogene Gardner Bittner, 36; Christopher Bittner, 24; and Robert Kennedy, III, 16, were found dead in their Deep Branch Road home Sept. 13, 2017. All three had died from strangulation, according to autopsies performed by the state medical examiner.

Emogene Bittner’s mother, Kathy Faulkner, entered the home that day to find her daughter’s body and called 911, indicating it was a possible suicide.

Faulkner said in the call: “I walked in and there was a plastic bag wrapped around her [Emogene Bittner’s] head, and she was laying in the floor.”

The dispatcher questioned Faulkner about the bag later in the conversation.

“A garbage bag,” said Faulkner, in the recording. “I have been having some problems out of some guys in Indiana, but I think that they put them in jail or something. I don’t know.”

The bodies of Christopher Bittner and Kennedy were later found in the back yard in a similar state to that of Emogene Bittner’s body. At that time, the sheriff’s department ruled out suicide and began investigating the scene as a triple homicide.

For more than a year, little information concerning the deaths were released by the Whitley County Sheriff’s Department, who initially was the chief investigating agency in the matter. Law enforcement officials only maintained that they believed the suspects to be from out of state.

The investigation that led to Hatfield’s arrest was launched in July 2018 after a family member requested a second investigation be performed into the deaths.

Hatfield was arrested in December 2018 after a warrant was secured for his arrest, charging him with unlawful possession of a handgun by a convicted felon. He was soon taken into custody in Vigo County Sheriff’s Department in Indiana and extradited back to Williamsburg following his arrest. He was jailed in the Whitley County Detention Center on Dec. 28, 2018. Hester and Chivers were arrested alongside Hatfield.

Hatfield was indicted in March by a Whitley County grand jury, formally charging him with three counts of murder, first-degree burglary, tampering with physical evidence, receiving stolen property – firearm and possession of a handgun by a convicted felon. Hester and Chivers were indicted May 20, both being formally charged with three counts of murder, first-degree burglary and tampering with physical evidence.

Hatfield remains jailed in the Whitley County Detention Center without bond. Hester and Chivers are have yet to be extradited back to Whitley County and are currently being held in jail facilities elsewhere in the state on federal firearms charges.

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