Weatherholt pleads no contest to murder of 3-week-old baby girl

Thomas Gene Weatherholt approaches the bench during his hearing at the 13th Circuit Court in Traverse City on Friday. Weatherholt pleaded no contest to second-degree murder charges in the death of a 3-week-old baby girl. He faces life in prison and will be sentenced March 8.

TRAVERSE CITY — Hannah Pence fled from the courtroom with tears flowing from her eyes, asking the first person she saw for a way out.

Pence left the 13th Circuit Court in a rush Friday after her ex-boyfriend, Thomas Gene Weatherholt, pleaded no contest to the murder of her 3-week-old daughter, Havona Hawsawi. Weatherholt, 22, faces life in prison for the second-degree murder conviction.

Cynthia Conlon, Weatherholt's attorney, said her client pleaded no contest because he was so intoxicated the night of the murder that he could not remember what happened. A preliminary breath test four hours after the incident showed Weatherholt had a blood-alcohol content level of .10.

Although no tox screen was done, Grand Traverse County Prosecuting Attorney Noelle Moeggenberg said Weatherholt admitted to either taking medication he received from his dad or for which he had a prescription. Those medications included clonazepam, xanax, methadone and zubsolv.

"Quite the cocktail," Moeggenberg said, "especially with xanax and alcohol — anytime you mix those two, memory issues and blackouts are pretty common."

Moeggenberg said it is unusual for a judge to accept a no contest plea, but Judge Thomas Power did so because of the evidence showing how intoxicated Weatherholt was.

Pence as well as many of her family members attended Friday's hearing.

"I'm glad for the family that they don't have to go through a trial," Moeggenberg said.

Hawsawi died in the early morning hours of Sept. 2, 2018. She suffered numerous injuries during the Aug. 31 incident, including a large skull fracture that resulted in brain swelling and bleeding, according to the medical examiner.

Judge Power said the report showed Hawsawi also suffered a broken collarbone that was "smashed like an egg." He said the findings revealed Weatherholt intentionally slammed Hawsawi's head against a hard surface and that the severity of the injuries was consistent with those seen in a high-speed car crash. Medical personnel ruled blunt force trauma as the cause of death.

During the preliminary hearing in December, Pence testified that Weatherholt had been drinking beer and liquor and was intoxicated before falling asleep in his truck outside of Pence's parents' house. Pence and Weatherholt argued after she woke him up. Weatherholt then woke up Hawsawi, who began crying, and took her outside and away from the house to try and calm her, Moeggenberg said.

Pence followed about one minute later and yelled for Weatherholt for about 10 minutes. He returned holding the silent infant without her blanket. Weatherholt said she “suddenly stopped crying” and fell asleep, according to testimony. He put Hawsawi in a bouncy seat, but Pence said her daughter was unresponsive. She found blood on the child’s clothing before running to get her parents.

Pence's father attempted CPR before emergency responders arrived and took Hawsawi to Munson Medical Center. She died one day later at Helen Devos Children’s Hospital in Grand Rapids.

Weatherholt will be sentenced March 8.

Education reporter