Richard Johnson met Tammy Hagin, the victim, at a nightclub in Port St. Lucie on the evening of February 14, 2001. The two spent several hours together. They left the club to go to Johnson’s residence for the remainder of the evening.
On February 15, 2001, Johnson’s roommate, John Vitale, agreed to take Hagin home to Vero Beach and Johnson went along. The three then went to Savannas Preserve State Park and then returned to Johnson’s residence.
An argument ensued. A witness testified that she heard a woman saying “I want to go home. Just let me go.” This exchange took place while Johnson and Vitale prevented Hagin from exiting the car by holding the car doors closed.
Eventually Hagin was allowed to exit the vehicle, but Johnson grabbed Hagin from behind, picked her up, and took her inside the house.
One of Johnson’s roommates testified that he saw Johnson yanking a woman into his room, after which the house became quiet. According to Vitale, Johnson eventually emerged from his room, and told Vitale that Hagin was “gone”. When pressed, Johnson said he had broken Hagin’s neck.
After wrapping Hagin’s body in a deflated air mattress, Johnson and Vitale placed the body in the trunk of Vitale’s car. The two used money from Hagin’s purse to buy a large cooler, concrete blocks, a chain, and a padlock. They sank the body in several feet of water at the Savannas Preserve State Park. Hagin’s body was found three days later by a fisherman.
Hagin died of strangulation. Her killer used both a ligature and bare hands. Both Vitale and Johnson were arrested within days.
John Vitale pled guilty to accessory to murder, and received a 22-year sentence. While testifying, Vitale also admitted that he was in love with Johnson.