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Norfolk man sentenced to 35 years in toddler's scalding death

John Hardee was found guilty of 2nd-degree murder for scalding the child with hot water in the bathtub and neglecting to take her to a nearby hospital.

NORFOLK, Va. — A Norfolk man convicted of killing a young girl was sentenced to 35 years in prison on Friday.

A judge found John Hardee guilty of 2nd-degree murder for scalding 2-year-old Harley Williams in a bathtub with hot water and neglecting to take her to a nearby hospital for several hours in 2018.

FROM 2018: Heaven's and Harley's stories - A 13News Now investigation

The sentence is several years higher than the recommended guidelines, which were between 17 years and five months, and 29 years and one month. After Hardee's release from prison, he will serve 10 years on probation, and no contact with minors.

Hardee told the judge he regrets not making different decisions that night in April of 2018 and that he did not mean to hurt his girlfriend's 2-year-old daughter. 

"Your honor, there’s not a day that goes by that I don’t wish we didn’t make different decisions. It was not malicious," Hardee said.

Prosecutors argued, however, that Hardee is a danger to the public after failing to act quickly when Harley got severely burned. They mentioned how he texted "I'm going to jail," to his girlfriend, Shelby Love, afterward.

They went on to say how Love told detectives Hardee handed the child to her, severely burned, and said, "please don't break up with me."

Detectives said 40-percent of the child's body was burned so badly, her skin was falling off. 

Prosecutors also brought up to the judge that Hardee has a prior conviction from 2013 for strangling a different woman and beating his 14-month-old son. They said the child's bruising in the 2013 case showed similar patterns with some bruising Harley Williamson had on her head in 2018, saying, "He wasn't supposed to be around children...and at no point does he take responsibility."

Hardee told Love he was getting the bath ready for Harley when he stepped out of the bathroom to make a call and Harley turned the water on.   

However, in an exclusive interview with 13News Now in October 2022, Hardee said he, "checked the temperature, and this was literally about 60 to 70 seconds I was away from her, before hearing her yell."

In a statement provided by Norfolk Commonwealth's Attorney, Ramin Fatehi, he said, "The violence John Hardee inflicted on little Harley - the burn 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."

The judge sided with the prosecution and gave Hardee a sentence nearly six years higher than the recommended guidelines, saying the act was "not done out of ignorance, but out of selfishness."

Harley's mother, Shelby Love, pleaded guilty in October 2020 to felony homicide and child abuse/neglect charges. She is still awaiting sentencing.

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