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Va. man gets 35 years for inflicting fatal burns on girlfriend’s toddler


NORFOLK, Va. (TCD) -- A 38-year-old man was sentenced to several decades in prison last week for burning his girlfriend’s toddler so badly that she later died from her wounds.

The Norfolk Commonwealth Attorney’s Office announced in a statement May 26 that a judge sentenced John Tucker Hardee to 35 years in prison for the death of 2-year-old Harley Williams.

According to the statement, on April 23, 2018, at about 4:30 p.m., Hardee texted his girlfriend, Shelby Rae Love, to "hurry home." Hardee was watching Harley while Love was at work, and he reportedly told his girlfriend he was "going to prison."

Love returned to her residence 50 minutes later and found Harley with burns covering 30% of her body, including her back, outer extremities, and left ear. Hardee reportedly said he put Harley in the bath, which was too hot. Love reportedly "did not believe the burns were significant," so she and Hardee tried treating the little girl with remedies such as Tylenol, gauze, Pedialyte, lidocaine, and apple cider vinegar.

Early the next morning, at approximately 3:30 a.m., Hardee called 911 when he saw Harley was "unresponsive, shaking, and having trouble breathing."

Medics arrived at the home and found Harley suffering from a seizure. The Prosecuting Attorney’s Office said Harley’s burns were "so severe that her skin had begun sloughing off."

Medical personnel transported Harley to Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters, where she was later pronounced dead. Her autopsy reportedly also indicated signs of abuse, including blunt force trauma, a 7-inch cut to the back of her head, a "large bruise" on her abdomen, and another injury to her small intestine. She also reportedly had a fatal amount of lidocaine in her system.

During Hardee’s trial, a doctor who specializes in child abuse reportedly testified 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."

Hardee was convicted at a bench trial July 13, 2022, of child abuse or neglect, malicious wounding, and second-degree murder. Hardee’s sentence also requires 10 years of post-release supervision and no contact with minors.

Love, Harley’s mother, pleaded guilty in October 2020 to child abuse or neglect and felony homicide. She will be sentenced June 23.

In 2014, Hardee was convicted of strangling a woman and abusing his son. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison with 12 years suspended.

Commonwealth’s Attorney Ramin Fatehi said in the statement, "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."

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