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Jury decides on death penalty for man convicted of killing 10-week-old daughter and leaving remains in storage container
Tuesday, December 17th, 2013
Issue 51, Volume 17.
by Kitty Alvarado
INDIO - Jurors decided that Jason Michael Hann, of Vermont, who turned 40-years-old today, should be put to death for murdering his 2-month-old daughter in Desert Hot Springs, dumping her remains in a plastic container and hiding them in an Arkansas storage unit. According to a press release issued by the office of Riverside County District Attorney, Paul Zellerbach, jurors came back with the decision only after a couple of hours of deliberation. Hann is scheduled to be formerly sentenced on February 21, 2014.
INDIO - A Vermont man was convicted today of first-degree murder for killing his 10-week-old daughter in Desert Hot Springs and leaving her in a storage container in another state -- less than two years after another of his children met a similar fate.
Jason Michael Hann was also found guilty of assault on a child causing great bodily injury, and jurors found true a special circumstance allegation of having a previous murder conviction, making Hann eligible for the death penalty.
Jurors, who deliberated for a few hours before handing down the verdict, must now decide if Hann should be put to death or spend the rest of his life in prison without the possibility of parole for the February 2001 murder of his daughter Montana.
The penalty phase will start Wednesday afternoon at the Larson Justice Center in Indio and is expected to last half a day, Riverside County Superior Court Judge James S. Hawkins told the panel.
Krissy Lynn Werntz, the baby's 34-year-old mother and Hann's then- girlfriend, is also charged with murder and will be tried separately.
Defense attorney Brenda Miller, in her closing argument earlier today, conceded her client killed two of his children and caused great bodily injury to a third. But she argued that the facts of the case showed Hann didn't act with premeditation and deliberation, as required for a first-degree murder conviction.
"Ask yourself, what kind of man murders an infant less than two months old? And what kind of man murders an infant less than three months old? And what kind of man causes great bodily injury (to another infant)? ... What kind of man puts infants in Tupperware containers? ... A man who is very mentally ill. Jason Hann is such a man," Miller said.
She said Hann has bipolar disorder, causing mood swings that range from euphoric to suicidal. As a teenager, he tried to hang himself and cut himself, and as an adult he couldn't keep jobs, according to Miller, who said he was in a hospital psychiatric ward at one point.
Her client has experienced hallucinations and suicidal thoughts and was put on "serious" bipolar medication, she said, arguing that Hann "is a psychiatrically disabled person incapable of premeditation and deliberation."
Hann's emotions "came to a peak with (the baby's) continual crying, resulting in the death of infant Montana," Miller said. She said he told a detective that hestruck the baby on the side of the head, saying, "I just flipped out, something just comes over me."
Miller told jurors they may see her client "as a monster ... especially those of you who are parents. But you cannot let these emotions obscure the facts of the case."
Deputy District Attorney Lisa DiMaria countered that Hann had been living a selfish, nomadic life, working only when he wanted to, and knew his parents would have taken care of Montana or that he could have opted to leave her at a hospital under California's Safely Surrendered law.
"In the face of these options, he chose death. That is premeditated, deliberate murder," DiMaria told jurors.
DiMaria said Hann admitted to a detective that he struck Montana on the side of the head once on Feb. 10, 2001, after she started crying.
"After the defendant was done with her, that little baby's skull was cracked open like a walnut ... her scalp was the only thing holding her precious head together," the prosecutor said.
Hann wrapped the infant's head in duct tape and her body in trash bags and placed her in a Tupperware container, which was then put in another trash bag and kept inside a trailer for a year at an Arkansas storage unit, according to the prosecution.
When Hann and Werntz stopped making payments, the trailer was auctioned off to an Arkansas man, who discovered the bag in February 2002, DiMaria said. Hann and Werntz were taken into custody in April 2002 at a motel in Portland, Maine.
The day after they were arrested, police found the remains of another of their children, a boy less than 2 months old, in a storage unit in Arizona. That baby, named Jason, had been killed in July 1999 in Vermont.
His remains were placed in a plastic container and kept by the couple for about a year before they rented the Arizona unit, according to court papers. In February 2006 in Vermont, Hann entered a no-contest plea to second- degree murder in the baby's death and was sentenced to 27 to 30 years in prison. Werntz wasn't charged in that case.
Authorities investigating the couple determined that their third child, a month-old boy named Michael, had skull, femur and rib fractures and was on the "brink of death" when he was found, DiMaria told jurors. That boy was later adopted and renamed.
While being questioned, Hann told police that Montana had died in Desert Hot Springs. The baby was born in Arizona on Dec. 1, 2000, and the family moved to California about a month later and was staying in a motor home in Desert Hot Springs at the time she died.
Hann was in prison for his son Jason's death when officials in Vermont agreed to extradite him to California to stand trial for Montana's death. He and Werntz were indicted by a grand jury in September 2009.
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