At her sentencing hearing on Oct. 22, petite, white-haired 71-year-old Mary Nance Hanson—the woman who admitted she shot and killed her former daughter-in-law, Tetyana "Tanya" Nikitina on Jan. 29, 2010 (see City Weekly's "Killed for Custody" Oct. 7 cover story)—looks vulnerable rather than threatening. Handcuffs appear heavy on her aging wrists.
She submitted two letters to the judge stating her belief that her victim and an unborn child named "Misha" visited her in a dream, bestowing forgiveness. There’s a long pause after the judge asks her if she is competent. “I don’t know,” she says. “I don’t know what I would need to be competent.” When asked what she did, she says, “I killed my ex-daughter in law.” She says she is charged with “murder one” and agrees that she has been able to communicate effectively with her lawyer several times. She describes her lawyer’s role as “writing up papers and talking to me” and the prosecutor’s task as “doing everything she can to get me into jail as long as she can,” to which the courtroom audience chuckles, which offends Nikitina’s fiancé, Rod Hernandez, the only noncourt-related representative of the victim who is present, although Nikitina's sister wrote a letter to the judge.
Defense attorney Tawni Hanseen says there is no concern about the defendant’s competency, that she “pleaded guilty to murder and is prepared to face the consequences.” Hanson declines her opportunity to discuss the case, but nudges Hanseen, who says, “She wants to say that her son had nothing to do with this.” Dale Jankowski, Hanson’s son who had been married to Nikitina and is the father of her two children, is noticeably absent from the crowded courtroom.
Hernandez, Nikitina’s fiancé, steps forward to state that he believes Hanson’s punishment should be harsher—“the harshest possible, although I don’t want her to die. There are still a lot of questions to which she holds the answers.”
He discusses a bright future that was shattered at Nikitina’s death and describes her as a wonderful mother and unselfish person who babysat neighborhood children for free and gave her dining room table away to someone else who she felt had greater need. "She had no family here other than her children. She had difficult times, but never blamed anyone. This shouldn’t have happened. I didn’t think I was going to survive. Tanya is irreplaceable.” As Hernandez speaks, Hanson’s face remains expressionless. Although her cuffed hands slide over each other from time to time, no emotion registers on her pale, almost waxy-looking features.
“Her children continue to call me Dad,” Hernandez relates, describing an evening when he and Nikitina’s children fell asleep in his living room and he heard her son crying in the night and trying to hide it. He describes Hanson as waiting like a predator, in carrying out an execution that boiled down to a conflict over custody. “What that woman did will have long-term effects, and these children will grow up and know the truth,” he says. “How could she hurt these children and cause so much pain and destruction in their lives? This woman is a monster. She doesn’t deserve to call them her grandchildren.”
He reiterates his opinion that Hanson should not be allowed to die, “that she should have to stay here and suffer like the rest of us.” Both during and after the hearing, Hernandez affirms his belief in God and his conviction that Hanson will someday have to meet her maker. He tells the judge, “When that happens, may she burn in hell.”
Third District Judge Deno Himonas sentenced Hanson to 15 years to life in prison.