US

Felon Who Once Received Life Sentence Charged With Murder

By The Associated Press

TAMPA, Fla.—Authorities in Florida say a felon released from prison last month after his life sentence was reduced is now charged with strangling a retiree he carjacked after a bank robbery.

The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office says in court documents that James Hanson Jr. confessed to killing Mathew Korattiyil, 68, on Aug. 6 behind a church after Korattiyil punched him and tried to run away. Hanson, 39, had been serving a life sentence, but was released July 2 under a 2016 deal after helping prosecutors convict another man of murder, the Tampa Bay Times reports .

“The hard reality of our criminal justice system is that sometimes prosecutors have to use the testimony of criminals to convict other criminals,” the Hillsborough County State Attorney’s Office said in a statement. “Mathew’s death is a senseless tragedy, and our office extends its deepest condolences to his family and friends.”

Hanson received his life sentence for armed robbery after previous convictions for robbery and armed burglary. But three years ago he went to prosecutors saying another inmate had confessed to him about a 2014 murder and asked him to arrange the killing of two witnesses. Under a deal, his sentence was reduced after he testified at the man’s trial.

In a court document filed before his release, the Times reports, Hanson wrote that he “has undergone a complete change of perspective, and has grown to respect life in a way that could never truly be understood by anyone who has never experienced 14 years in prison, or been told you will die in prison.”

In court documents filed this week, Detective Moises Garcia wrote that Hanson robbed the CenterState Bank in the Tampa suburb of Valrico on Tuesday morning with a gun. As he fled, Hanson carjacked Korattiyil, who had pulled into the parking lot in his 2019 Lexus. Detectives used the car’s GPS to track it to a home, where Hanson spotted them. He led officers on a high-speed chase before crashing and running away, jumping several fences before he was captured, Garcia wrote.

Hanson originally told Garcia that he knew nothing about the robbery or carjacking. Garcia said Hanson eventually told detectives he would take them to Korattiyil if prosecutors made a deal, but that was declined. Hanson then took detectives to the nearly naked body hidden in some bushes behind Sacred Heart Knanaya Catholic Community Center.

Hanson told them he robbed the bank to get money for his sister and girlfriend, who are struggling financially. He told them that after carjacking Korattiyil, he went to the church, where Korattiyil begged to be freed. Hanson said he refused because too many police were in the area, so Korattiyil punched him and ran.

Hanson told detectives he chased Korattiyil down and strangled him first with his hands and then Korattiyil’s belt, Garcia wrote. He said he stripped Korattiyil to remove any DNA evidence and dragged the body into the bushes. He told detectives he later threw the clothes out the car’s window.

Korattiyil was a member of the community center. Center president Tomy Kattinacheril told the Times that Korattiyil was a father of three who owned a gas station and convenience store, but recently retired and leased out the business. He was looking forward to spending time with his grandchildren.

Hanson is charged with first-degree murder, kidnapping, and robbery and was being held Thursday without bail. The public defender’s office had no immediate comment.