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  1. Hillsborough

Hearing replays bank robbery, carjacking and attack that ended in Valrico father's death

James Hanson Jr., the suspect in Tuesday’s Valrico bank robbery and subsequent carjacking and murder, is seen at a pre-trial detention hearing on Friday, Aug. 09, 2019 and the Hillsborough County courthouse in Tampa. ALLIE GOULDING | Times
Published Aug. 10

TAMPA — Melson Korattiyil walked into the courtroom, past the man accused of carjacking and killing his father, and took a seat on the stand.

A prosecutor showed Korattiyil a succession of photos and asked if they hadd belonged to his father Mathew.

"Yes, that is my father's glasses," said Melson Korattiyil, one of Mathew's three children.

"Yes, that is my father's cross."

"Yes, that is my father's sandal."

All of those items — along with the father's wallet — were found in the Valrico manufactured home where 39-year-old James W. Hanson Jr. was living when he robbed the CenterState Bank on East Brandon Boulevard on Tuesday, then carjacked Mathew Korattiyil, strangled him to death and left his body behind a nearby community center, investigators testified Friday.

The photos were among evidence Assistant State Attorney Jay Pruner presented during a hearing that helped persuade Circuit Judge Daryl M. Manning to order Hanson held without bail on charges of first degree murder, carjacking and robbery, among other crimes.

The hearing was largely for procedural purposes because a judge earlier in the day had already ordered Hanson to be held without bail for violating his probation. But it offered new details about what happened that day and the evidence, beyond Hanson's own confession, that prosecutors say points to him.

The day of the robbery, a web search was conducted on Hanson's iPhone for "closest bank near me," detectives said. In his house, they found a receipt from Wal-Mart for an Airsoft-type BB gun that cost $54.25, as well as the gun itself. Investigators believe it was the same gun he carried into the CenterState Bank the next morning.

Surveillance video captured the suspect, whose face was not visible, walking up to the counter, punching a male bank employee in the face, grabbing some rolls of change from the counter and fleeing out the front door, Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office Detective Moises Garcia testified.

Hanson was wearing blue coveralls, a camouflage hat and black gloves. All of those items were found later found in his home, detectives said.

The man Hanson had punched followed him and started video recording with a cell phone, and the bank's surveillance cameras were rolling, too. The footage showed the suspect forcing Korattiyil, who had just pulled up to the bank, into the passenger seat of his white Lexus SUV, getting behind the wheel and pulling away.

Detectives tracked the SUV to Hanson's home on Marjo Lane using the onboard GPS system. When deputies pulled onto the street, Hanson spotted them and sped off in the Lexus. Deputies used a tire shredding device to disable the SUV and pushed it off the road, causing it to overturn.

Hanson kicked out the SUV's sunroof and fled on foot, Detective Robert Carr testified. Carr and other deputies gave chase. When they caught up to Hanson, he resisted commands to put his hands behind his back. Carr said he held Hanson by wrapping an arm around his neck as deputies hit and kicked him to get him to comply.

After initially denying involvement, Hanson gave a full confession, detectives said. He said he robbed the bank to help his sister, who was getting evicted, and his financially struggling girlfriend. After carjacking Korattiyil, he drove to the Sacred Heart Knanaya Catholic Community Center, where, he said, Korattiyil punched him and tried to get away. Hanson said he chased him down and strangled him, first with his bare hands then with Korattiyil's belt.

The Hillsborough Medical Examiner confirmed Korattiyil had been strangled to death, according to testimony.

Hanson showed little emotion during the hearing, often staring toward the floor, his head bowed toward his chest. A purple bruise ringed his eye. He smiled and appeared to joke with his attorney, Assistant Public Defender Jennifer Spradley.

Garcias said that while being questioned by detectives, Hanson made statements such as, "I'm screwed," and, "My life is over."

He appears to have spoiled a rare second chance at freedom.

Hanson was sentenced in 2003 to life in prison for robbery with a firearm after he held up a Tampa bank. But in 2016, prosecutors agreed to a deal to vacate that sentence and allow Hanson to plead guilty to a lesser charge with a sentence of 20 years followed by 10 years of probation. He got credit for nearly 13.5 years he'd already served.

In a statement this week, the Hillsborough State Attorney's Office said it agreed to the deal because Hanson had appealed his initial sentence and might have been granted a new trial, and because he'd served as a material witness critical to the prosecution of another defendant in an unrelated murder case.

Under Florida law, Hanson was required to complete at least 85 percent of his sentence, or 17 years. He was released July 2 after serving a total of 17 years. According to the Florida Department of Corrections, Hanson had accumulated so-called gain time, which is awarded to inmates for good behavior or participation in work and education programs.

At 1:30 p.m. on the day of the robbery and murder, Hanson had an appointment with his probation officer. By then, he was already in custody.

Contact Tony Marrero at tmarrero@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3374. Follow @tmarrerotimes.

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