When Janet Hundley, dressed in black and wearing two pairs of gloves, accosted her stepdaughter in her stepdaughter's Austin, Texas, garage in January 2009 and beat her with a hammer, what was she thinking would happen to the 14-month-old still strapped in a car seat nearby?
That's one thing among many things that Pam Ward wonders. Ward is the former wife of Little Rock oil and gas company owner John Hundley Jr. and the mother of Heather Hundley Beitzel, who was returning to her home after dropping off an older daughter at school when Hundley attacked her with a claw hammer. (The 14-month-old was unharmed.)
On June 14, a year and five months after the bludgeoning, Janet Hundley, 54, pleaded guilty in Travis County District Court in Texas to attempted murder, felony level 2. She was placed on community supervision for 10 years, and electronic monitoring for two. She was ordered to reimburse Beitzel for $10,337.19 in hospital expenses and pay a $10,000 fine, a supervision fee and court costs. She was also ordered to perform 400 hours community service, to undergo assessment in a family violence program, take an anger management class, undergo counseling, to have no contact with Beitzel and to stay away from the city of Austin. She is to avoid drugs, alcohol and controlled substances, and will be required to submit urine samples.
Hundley hit Beitzel numerous times in the head with the hammer, yelling that Beitzel had made her life miserable. The apparent motive: money. Two months earlier, Beitzel had sued her father for allegedly misappropriating funds from a trust inheritance.
The Hundley family has been prominent in Little Rock. John Hundley Sr. was an orthopedic surgeon who had a large thoroughbred farm west of Little Rock, near Pinnacle Mountain. John Hundley Jr. and Janet Hundley own Hundley Hydrocarbons, an oil and gas exploration and natural gas distribution business. They made a couple of high profile real estate transactions in 2006, selling 150 acres on County Farm Road for $2.79 million and another 58 acres for $884,000, both owned by the Hundley Family Limited Partnership.
Hundley Sr. died in 1995 and his wife, Jeanice, died in 2008. Their estates, worth between $3.5 million and $4.5 million according to documents filed in the suit, named Heather Hundley Beitzel and John Hundley Jr. as heirs, with two-thirds of the assets to go to Hundley Jr. and one third to Beitzel.
Beitzel became concerned about the management of the estates — family trusts and the HFLP — in 2007, after her grandmother reported to Beitzel that Hundley Jr. had told her that the trusts were "out of money." In her lawsuit, Beitzel alleged that Jeanice Hundley complained that Hundley Jr. was supporting Janet Hundley's children with funds from the trust, had reduced her personal grooming allowance and wanted to fire an aide to Jeanice. Jeanice Hundley reported to Beitzel, according to allegations in the suit, that "John is stealing from me."
Beitzel said her father was evasive when asked about the condition of the trusts and would not provide an accounting.
Beitzel also alleged that Hundley Jr. used money from the trust funds to buy homes in Little Rock and San Marco, Fla. Hundley acknowledged borrowing $730,000 from the Hundley Family Limited Partnership and $475,000 from the Hundley Sr. trust to purchase his condominium in San Marco. Hundley maintained that the loans were made with Jeanice Hundley's approval and would be taken into account when the trust was closed and assets were distributed.
As part of a settlement agreement mediated in January, Beitzel was to receive $1.7 million from the trusts and Hundley Sr.'s war medals, according to court documents. Final terms of the settlement, agreed to in March, were not disclosed. Beitzel gave up further claims on the estate.
Also as part of the settlement, Hundley proposed and Beitzel agreed that she would not oppose probation for Janet Hundley.
It was about 8 a.m. Jan. 14, 2009, when Heather Beitzel, 36, pulled her SUV into the garage of her home on Agape Lane. She had just dropped her 7-year-old daughter, Alexandra, at school, and was dressed in sweats and house shoes; 14-month-old Annamarie was in her car seat in the car. When Beitzel got out of her car, she was surprised to see her stepmother standing there, dressed in black. Janet Hundley had a claw hammer in her hand, Beitzel said, and was wearing latex gloves under black leather gloves. Hundley yelled at Beitzel, "I hate you, you ruined everything," and came after her, hitting her repeatedly in the head with the hammer and kicking her.
Beitzel was able to wrest the hammer away from Hundley, but her stepmother then began to choke her. "I screamed 'What are you doing?' She looked at me with evil eyes and said, 'I'm going to kill you.' " Beitzel said that was when she realized she was going to be "dead on the floor of my garage if I didn't fight back."
Beitzel said she then made a "split-second decision": That she would leave her 14-month-old in the car and run inside to call 911 if she could get past Hundley. She did manage to get inside her house, and called the police. She also called her neighbor, who came over with a gun and held Janet Hundley until police could arrive. The baby was untouched.
Beitzel suffered deep lacerations to the scalp, scratches on her body and bruises down her back. She went to an Austin hospital, where she got seven staples in her head and was treated for concussion.
At the sentencing, Heather Beitzel and her husband, Derek, addressed the court. Heather restated some of the facts of the case because she wanted her father, who was in the courtroom, to hear them. Derek told Janet Hundley that she was a "fortunate woman that I wasn't home and that she will leave here to go home instead of a cage."
Adding to Heather Beitzel's physical blows was the emotional hit delivered by her father. He came to Austin after the attack, but his intent was to bail out Janet Hundley. He did not call Beitzel then nor has he since.
Ward, Heather Beitzel's mother and John Hundley's ex-wife, said the event was "devastating." Of her ex-husband, she said, "In my wildest imagination, no matter what he's ever done, I never dreamed he would turn his back on his child."
Alexandra Beitzel has required counseling, her mother said.
John Hundley declined to talk about the criminal case except to say that he thought the verdict was fair.