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Thomas Hansen Guilty of Murder, to Get 'in Essence a Life Sentence'

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WASHINGTON, Iowa - Former Johnson County Emergency Management coordinator Thomas Hansen was convicted Friday of second-degree murder, meaning he will likely spend the rest of his life in prison.

Hansen's family members wept at the verdict and so did supporters of his victim, Sharon Gerot. As Hansen was led into the hallway following the verdict, his eyes met those of his sons and grandchildren, and he pursed his lips and started crying.

The 12 jurors seven women and five men chose not to convict Hansen of first-degree murder, the original charge filed against him. They instead convicted him of second-degree murder, a class B felony punishable by 50 years in prison.

Hansen, 72, must serve 35 years of that sentence before he is eligible for parole. That means he will be 107 before he's eligible for release. His official sentencing is scheduled for Feb. 1.

His attorneys said they will appeal the verdict.

Defense attorney John Robertson said, "We're just disappointed."

"We didn't believe the state had enough evidence beyond a reasonable doubt," he said. "We believed all along this was a manslaughter case."

Robertson said the sentencing judge will have no discretion at Hansen's sentencing hearing.

"It is in essence a life sentence," he said.

Family members and friends of both Hansen and Gerot declined to comment about the verdict.

Washington County Attorney Larry Brock said he was pleased with the verdict, although he still felt it was a first-degree murder case.

"The family is satisfied that he will be in prison for the rest of his life," Brock said. "There is no reason to believe the verdict will not be upheld."

In addition to his 50 year prison term, Hansen will be ordered to pay $150,000 to Gerot's estate.

Jurors listened to about three days of testimony in the murder case of Hansen, accused of firing a .40 caliber semi-automatic handgun at Gerot, 54, of May 1, 2011. The single bullet hit Gerot in the head, and she died on their lawn in Riverside.

Hansen and Gerot, who had been living together for about 10 years, were planning to go work at Yellowstone National Park that month, according to court testimony.

Until Hansen took the stand on Thursday, his defense had consisted almost entirely of character witnesses people who knew him when he was a fire marshal with the Iowa City Fire Department or director of the Johnson County Emergency Management department.

During Hansen's testimony, he said Gerot had been abusing him for years hitting him, spitting on him, choking him, threatening him, brandishing a gun and cursing regularly. He said that on the day of the shooting, she was at her worst.

She attacked him numerous times, and he wanted to scare her by firing a round near her as she mowed the lawn. He said the shot accidentally hit her. He stressed that it was an accident.

Prosecutors asked why Hansen didn't fire the shot into the air, if he meant to scare her. They asked jurors to consider why Hansen's shot went directly into her head, and the reminded them that Hansen admitted to "having some anger" that afternoon.

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