UPDATE: Through tears and long pauses, first-degree murder suspect Thomas Hansen told a 14-person jury on Thursday that he never meant to kill his companion of 10 years, his wife-to-be, Sharon Gerot.
“I never wanted to hit her, I wanted to scare her and get her the hell out of there,” Hansen said, wiping his face and covering his eyes through sobs during his testimony on Thursday. “Sorry.”
Hansen, 72, took the stand in his own defense to explain to jurors what led him to fire a semi-automatic handgun at Gerot, 54, on May 1, 2011. The single bullet hit Gerot in the head, and she died on their lawn in Riverside.
Hansen faces a charge of first-degree murder in connection with the death of the woman who he had been living with for about a decade. The couple was 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.
But, when Hansen took the stand, he painted a picture of an abusive relationship that had erupted into physical fights, name calling and threats for years. Hansen said he usually looked the other direction and ignored Gerot when she would become irate.
But, Hansen said, on the day of the shooting, Gerot was worse than normal.
“It was probably the worst day,” he said.
Gerot was upset with Hansen from the moment she woke up, he testified. She wanted him to clean closets and prepare the house for their trip to Yellowstone. Hansen said Gerot pushed and shoved him in the hallway, choked him, spat in his face, cursed at him and brandished a .22 caliber pistol.
“She’s waiving it around,” Hansen said. “She’s saying, ‘I could put a bullet in my head. I could put a bullet in your head.’”
Hansen said Gerot threw a cup of ice in his face and eventually went outside to mow the yard. Hansen said he followed her to warn her about a hot electric fence. At that warning, according to Hansen’s testimony, Gerot shoved him and brought him to his knees.
At that point, Hansen testified, he was thinking of a way to “Get her the hell out of here. I want her to leave.”
And, he said, “I did one of the most stupid things in the world.”
He picked up a loaded weapon and went through the house and to the sliding glass door, where he fired a single round toward Gerot. Through tears, Hansen said, he recalled what happened next.
“She went backwards on the mower, and her foot caught the clutch and it kept going,” Hansen said. “I turned around, and I went in and got the phone and dialed 911.”
As it sunk in what had happened, Hansen testified, he realized, “Everything I ever had was gone.”
Hansen said he loved Gerot. He didn’t want her dead. He said he didn’t aim the gun at her head.
But, prosecutors pressed him on those issues. They asked why Hansen, after enduring years of alleged abuse, never called 911 before the shooting May 1. They asked why he stayed with Gerot, why he never got a restraining order.
Hansen said he was holding out hope the relationship would work.
Following Hansen’s testimony on Thursday, the defense rested its case and the prosecution declined to call any rebuttal witnesses. Closing arguments in the trial are expected to begin Friday morning.
The jury will begin deliberations immediately afterward.
Testimony has resumed Thursday morning in the first-degree murder trial of former Johnson County Emergency Management coordinator Thomas Hansen.
Hansen’s defense team began presenting his case on Wednesday after the prosecution rested its case. His team has called numerous witnesses so far, all of which have spoken mostly to the quality of his character and very little about the actual crime he’s accused of committing.
Hansen, 72, of Riverside, is accused of shooting Sharon Gerot, 54, with a semi-automatic handgun on May 1, 2011, according to a criminal complaint. Investigators said the pair had been living together for years and had been arguing earlier that day, according to court records.
The couple was planning to go work at Yellowstone National Park, investigators reported.
Hansen retired as Johnson County’s emergency management coordinator in 2007. He worked for the Iowa City Fire Department before that.
During open statements, prosecutor Andrew Prosser told the 14-person jury that Hansen, who lived with Gerot, was overheard after the shooting saying that he “just couldn’t take it anymore.” Prosser and his team presented evidence showing the type of gun Hansen used to kill Gerot, where he was standing when he fired the fatal shot and how long Hansen had to “meditate” the killing.
But, defense attorney John Robertson, told jurors that not every killing is first-degree murder and that jurors should keep their minds open as they hear the evidence.