Stephen Hagin didn’t want his children to know he used illegal drugs.
He had started using drugs as a young teenager while “hanging out with the wrong crowd,” relatives say. He had been arrested on felonies as a teen and had two felony convictions as a young adult.
“Stephen didn’t want his children to know about what was going on with him,” said Antoinette Ray, Hagin’s aunt.
“He wanted them to believe you can be who you want to be and you can turn your life around, because that’s what he wanted to do.”
Hagin, 29, ran out of time the night he killed his best friend, 38-year-old Brian Bachtel, in 2014. Hagin shot him during an argument over drug money in Pass Christian. He claims he was hallucinating and thought Bachtel was going to hurt him because he didn’t have money to pay for the drug.
Hagin’s two elementary school-age daughters will grow up knowing their daddy will spend 40 years in prison for killing a man. The man he killed also left behind loved ones including four children, four grandchildren and another that’s on the way.
The two families, meeting in a Harrison County Circuit Court courtroom Tuesday, consoled each other, tears flowed and hugs were exchanged, after Judge Lisa Dodson sentenced Hagin on a second-degree murder charge.
Hagin’s attorney, Michael Crosby, said Hagin’s initial experience of “waking up from a nightmare and realizing he’d killed his best friend” led to one of the most emotional pleas and reactions he’s ever witnessed.
Hagin’s saving grace now is his hope that what he’s done could help save the lives of others, Crosby said.
“He hopes that other people will begin to understand the harshness of drugs. Brian lost his life and Stephen lost every remaining part of his life. Loving family members on both sides shall continue to suffer for many years. All over drugs.”
During the hearing, Hagin received the judge’s permission to turn around and speak to Bachtel’s family. Crosby said Hagin told Bachtel’s family something like this:
“I want you to know that I am very sorry and wish it didn’t happen. I have absolutely nothing to gain by saying this to you because it does not affect my sentence, but for whatever it’s worth, I want you to know this.”
Relatives of each man said Hagin’s apology tugged at their hearts.
“I never heard my nephew be more of a man than he was that day,” Ray said. “You could just hear it in his voice.”
‘It wasn’t their fault’
Karen Bachtel said she had been unable to cry since her son’s death.
“It was like I was protecting myself from grief, like I was in denial,” she said. “As soon as I got in the courtroom, I started sobbing and I could not control it.”
Ray, speaking to the judge on Hagin’s behalf, expressed sorrow for Bachtel’s family.
“It really meant a lot to me for her to say that because we all lost someone we love,” Bachtel’s mother said. “Once your kids get a certain age, they turn into whoever they want to. They make their choices. It wasn’t Stephen’s family who pulled the trigger. It wasn’t their fault.”
Bachtel and Ray and other family members hugged each other after the sentencing. The shared grief and lack of animosity was comforting, Ray said.
Relatives have described Hagin and Bachtel, as happy-go-lucky family men who loved children, fixing vehicles and helping others.
Hagin was a brick layer and general laborer who wanted to go into business for himself.
Bachtel was an auto mechanic and construction worker.
Hagin was believed to be associated with the Latin Kings street gang, but attorneys said the killing was not gang-related.
There’s conflicting beliefs on whether the drug was meth or bath salts, a designer drug that’s a cheap substitute for meth. Both illegal drugs can cause violent, psychotic, erratic behavior, according to the National Institute On Drug Abuse.
People who know Hagin told sheriff’s investigators Hagin had asked Bachtel to buy him some meth. Bachtel’s mother says her son had used meth but he had been clean a few months.
Hagin says it was bath salts, and he and Bachtel both used needles to inject themselves with the drug that night, his attorney said.
The choices he made
How Hagin reached this point in his life goes back to choices, his aunt said.
“He started getting mixed up with the wrong kind of people, friends, peer groups, drugs when he was a young kid,” Ray said. “He did some foolish things and it started by hanging around with people who do drugs. Drugs played a big part in the killing.”
In his early teen years, he was accused in a carjacking, an armed robbery with a knife, two different felony assaults and a string of misdemeanors such as DUI and possession of marijuana.
He was a young adult when he was convicted on two felonies — attempted grand larceny in 2009 and taking a motor vehicle in 2010.
Hagin was on probation for one of those felonies when he raised a .410 shotgun and shot Bachtel in his left ear. Bachtel died June 3, 2014. Hagin hid the body in woods off Bell Creek Road and abandoned a car he had borrowed, leaving it near the body.
Bachtel’s sister, Devan Bachtel, said she first had mixed emotions at Hagin’s sentencing but is satisfied with how the case was resolved.
“When he turned around and faced the family, I could see he was sober,” she said. “He said he will spend the rest of his life trying to make amends.”