Can the man who confessed to killing Susan Woods face additional charges? Here’s what the DA says.


By SARA VANDEN BERGE


If you watched the episode of Dateline NBC on Feb. 12 featuring the murder of Stephenville resident Susan Woods, you were probably left with a couple of lingering questions.


Namely, how in the world did a confessed killer with such violent tendencies get released from prison after serving only a fraction of his sentence?


And can Joseph Scott Hatley now be tried for beating and raping an underage girl in 1987?

That case involved Shannon, a former Stephenville resident who once dated Hatley before he took her to a roadside park and viciously raped and beat her for hours.


Shannon spent several days in the hospital following the attack and told police exactly who assaulted her, but an Erath County grand jury declined to indict him.


Years later, Hatley was arrested for the murder of Susan Woods and sentenced in 2007 to 30 years in prison after pleading guilty. He was also charged with assaulting his handicapped wife.


Shannon relived her ordeal on Dateline, stirring outrage among viewers that a man like Hatley could have gotten away with such a violent act, even after he was clearly identified by his victim.

Following the Dateline episode, I was contacted by a number of people with questions about the case.


One of those people included a man who asked if Erath County District Attorney Alan Nash could present Shannon’s case to the grand jury a second time, at the very least, to try and indict him for statutory rape.


The short answer to that, unfortunately, is no.


I spoke with Nash a couple of days ago and he explained that when Shannon’s assault took place in the 1980s, there was a statute of limitations for sexual assault crimes.


“Back then, only homicide cases had no limitation,” Nash told Beneath the Surface News. “In the 1980s, there was a five-year limitation for sexual assault and a 10-year limitation for sexual assault of a child.”


In other words, it’s too late to try and hold Hatley accountable for what he did to Shannon all those years ago.


Fortunately, laws protecting victim’s right have improved significantly since then, and today, there is no longer a statute of limitations for cases involving sexual assault of a child.