Southeast Missouri man convicted of murder after third trial

Sunday, December 19, 2010

WEST PLAINS, Mo. -- A Howell County jury convicted a Poplar Bluff, Mo., man early Friday morning of killing his father, Ralph Hanna, in November 2003.

The seven-woman and five-man jury deliberated a total of about nine hours before convicting Shawn Curtis Hanna, 31, of first-degree murder and armed criminal action in connection with the Nov. 16, 2003, shooting death of his 56-year-old father.

The elder Hanna, who owned a vehicle repair shop in Poplar Bluff, was shot once as he was returning to his Ellsinore, Mo., home from an early morning hunting trip.

An autopsy showed Ralph Hanna died instantly from a single gunshot wound to the left side of his chest from a high-velocity bullet.

After hearing from multiple witnesses for the state and one for the defense, the jury began deliberating at about 3:45 p.m. Thursday and returned with its verdict between 10:30 and 11 p.m., according to a court official.

When Presiding Circuit Judge David Evans polled the individual jurors as to their verdict, one of the jurors reportedly said "no" when asked if guilty were her verdicts on the murder and armed criminal action charges.

Evans reportedly sent the jurors back to the jury room to continue deliberating. At about 1 a.m. Friday, the court official said, the jury came back with the same guilty verdicts.

Shawn Hanna's trial was set to resume Friday morning for a penalty phase; however, it did not.

Since the state was not seeking the death penalty, the only possible punishment Shawn Hanna could receive on the murder charge was life imprisonment without probation or parole. The armed criminal action charge carries a minimum of three years in prison.

When the defense wouldn't waive a "sentencing trial" on the armed criminal action charge, the court official said, the state dismissed that charge.

Evans revoked Shawn Hanna's bond and set his sentencing for 1 p.m. Feb. 25.

Most of the evidence presented by Assistant Attorney General Kevin Zoellner during the trial was similar to what was introduced during Shawn Hanna's earlier trials in Carter County, both of which ended in hung juries.

"It was pretty much the same trial," Zoellner said. "We didn't call the same witnesses (but) most of the evidence was essentially the same."

The jurors, he said, heard testimony from the first responders on the scene, as well as neighbors of Ralph Hanna, who lived on Route N at Ellsinore with his wife, Denise.

Zoellner said the jury also heard evidence concerning the motivation for this crime, which revolved around the debts that Denise Hanna, Shawn Hanna and another son, Phillip Hanna, had incurred unbeknownst to Ralph Hanna.

"What was presented besides that [financial evidence was] Gary Brady at Bootheel Buggy," Zoellner said. "[He testified that] two weeks before murder, Shawn came in and used his mom's credit card to pay for repairs" totaling $1,089.

Also testifying for the state was Cattleya Bradbury, Shawn Hanna's half-sister.

Her testimony, according to Zoellner, surrounded letters she received from her brother, who was in jail shortly after being charged with the murder.

At that time, Zoellner said, Bradbury didn't believe her brother had killed their father. She read Shawn Hanna's letters, but put them away and forgot about them for years.

Bradbury, Zoellner said, came across the letters a couple of years ago, sometime after her brother's second trial in 2006 and around the time of her stepmother's trial in 2007. Although the letters couldn't be used in Denise Hanna's trial, Zoellner said, officials had the handwriting examined and confirmed they were written by Shawn Hanna.

"In one of the letters, he confessed," Zoellner said. "He tells her he's sorry for what happened. He tells her one day he hopes she can truly forgive him."

In addition, Zoellner said, Shawn Hanna wrote about hoping to get out of jail and being able to marry Kristin Eads, who was then his girlfriend, so he could "give (Bradbury) a sister … it's the least I can do, and I hope to make bond so I can live a little bit of life before I go to jail and get the punishment I deserve."

The defense's argument, Zoellner said, was that "some hunter" accidentally shot Ralph Hanna.

The only defense witness was Ernie Wells, the current homeowner of Ralph Hanna's former property, Zoellner said. "[He] basically testified about the terrain surrounding the place where Ralph was murdered," he said.

When Shawn Hanna is sentenced in February, he will join his mother in prison.

Denise Hanna is serving a life sentence, plus 10 years, after being convicted of second-degree murder and armed criminal action by a Carter County jury.

"With this trial and Denise Hanna's trial, the people who plotted, planned and executed Ralph Hanna have been brought to justice," said the prosecutor handling the case.

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