Hansen avoids murder oneSentencing for second degree murder will be Feb. 1
Thomas Lee Hansen, 72, was found guilty of murder in the second-degree Friday afternoon. Hansen was charged with murdering 54-year-old Sharon Kay Gerot, who was living with him south of Riverside at the time of her death on May 1, 2011.
Second-degree murder carries with it a maximum sentence of 50 years. Hansen will be eligible for parole after serving 35 years in prison. Hansen will be sentenced on Feb. 1, 2013 at 1:15 p.m. No bond was available to him.
A 12-member Washington County jury ended its deliberations shortly before 3:30 p.m. Friday after hearing closing arguments that morning, which ended at 11:15 a.m. The jury consisted of five men and seven women.
Wash-ington County Clerk of Court Julie Johnson read the jury’s verdict to a full courtroom that afternoon. Criminal trials require the jury’s verdict to be unanimous. After hearing the guilty verdict, defense attorney John Robertson asked to “poll the jury,” meaning to ask each individual juror if he or she accepted the verdict. All 12 jurors confirmed that they agreed to the second-degree murder conviction.
The state sought a conviction for first-degree murder. The difference between first-degree and second-degree murder is that first-degree murder is planned in advance, whereas second-degree murder is not planned in advance.
Defense attorney Dennis Cohen argued that Hansen was guilty of a crime, but not murder. Cohen argued Hansen was guilty of involuntary manslaughter, specifically a kind of involuntary manslaughter described as “conduct likely to cause death.”
Involuntary manslaughter means the perpetrator negligently caused the death of another but did not intend to kill the person.
The defense argued that Hansen did not purposefully shoot Gerot but rather was merely trying to scare her when he fired his gun in her direction on May 1, 2011.
Hansen took the witness stand Thursday and told the jury he was aiming at the horse pasture beyond Gerot when he struck her in the head with a bullet while she was riding a lawnmower. He testified that Gerot had physically abused him numerous times that day, which he said was a common occurrence throughout their 10-year relationship.
In his closing argument, Cohen argued that Hansen’s actions were not consistent with somebody who wanted to kill his girlfriend. Cohen said it was implausible to think Hansen would shoot Gerot at a distance of 69 feet with a handgun while she was moving.
“Sixty-nine feet might be as close as you’ll get to the President or the Pope, but not to Sharon,” Cohen said.
The prosecution argued that Hansen’s statements and actions before and after the shooting indicated he premeditated Gerot’s murder. Prosecution witness Todd Hahn said Hansen told him, “I shot ‘em” when Hahn rushed to the scene of the incident after observing it from his car.
Hansen testified that he used to work as a firefighter in Iowa City. Hansen’s son, Patrick Hansen, testified that his father performed CPR on a neighbor who attempted to commit suicide with a shotgun.
Assistant Attorney General Andy Prosser said that Hansen knew how to perform CPR and yet did not perform CPR on Gerot.
“He doesn’t run out to perform CPR,” Prosser said in his closing. “He doesn’t say, ‘I didn’t mean to.’”
The two sides objected to portions of the other side’s closing remarks. When Washington County Attorney Larry Brock argued that actions speak louder than words, he began to tell an anecdote about his 7-year-old son. Before Brock could complete his story, Cohen objected to the relevance of the story, which was sustained by Judge Joel Yates.
Later, Brock spoke about the separate acts Hansen committed before the killing, and mentioned chambering a round in the pistol as one of the acts. Cohen objected that this was a misstatement of the facts because the .40 caliber pistol chambers a round and fires it in a single motion. Yates sustained the objection.
During his closing remarks, Cohen talked about how Hansen was in an excited emotional state when the shooting occurred. He began to tell a story about skiing in the Winter Olympics, but Brock objected that the story was irrelevant. Yates sustained the objection.
Members of both Gerot’s and Hansen’s families attended the trial. On Wednesday, when some of the defense witnesses testified about anecdotes from Hansen’s life, members of the audience could be heard chuckling. Brock asked Yates to instruct the audience not to laugh because it upset Gerot’s family. On Thursday morning, Yates told the audience to refrain from that kind of behavior or any behavior that would result in a mistrial.
The jury was asked to consider the most serious charge first, and if the jury did not believe the defendant was guilty of that charge, it would then consider if the defendant was guilty of a lesser included offense.
The lesser included offenses in a first-degree murder charge are, in order, second-degree murder, voluntary manslaughter and involuntary manslaughter. Similar to second-degree murder, voluntary manslaughter is an intentional killing that is unplanned. Unlike second-degree murder, voluntary manslaughter is precipitated by an event that would cause a reasonable person to become emotionally or mentally disturbed.