...[Deputy Prosecutor Zachary] Craig said the child had heard her mother "screaming for her life" and her father [Gaston Indiana Police Officer Benjamin Hankins] "shouting at Nettie to lay down and die"...
June 4, 2011 - [IN] Lisa "Nettie" Peterson's life stolen by her cop ex - Lisa "Nettie" Peterson was killed June 3. 2011 by her estranged husband Benjamin "Ben" Hankins. Hankins is a Gaston police officer, and a corrections officer. He has been jailed and charged with murder. Their three children are without them both.
BENJAMIN HANKINS SENT NUDE PHOTOS SHORTLY BEFORE SHOOTING
11:13 PM, Apr. 2, 2012
[Excerpts] The morning he is accused of fatally shooting his estranged wife, Benjamin Hankins had sent her cellphone two nude photographs - of herself - and threatened to distribute them to acquaintances, a police officer said on Monday. Testimony is set to begin today in the Delaware Circuit Court 2 trial of Hankins, charged with murder in the June 2011 slaying of Lisa "Nettie" Hankins... The couple had been separated since the previous summer, and a divorce suit filed by Lisa Hankins had been pending since September 2010... Ben Hankins maintained he shot his wife in self-defense after she pointed a handgun at him...
MURDER TRIAL BEGINS WITH CALL FOR MISTRIAL
The Star Press
Written by Douglas Walker
11:02 PM, Apr. 3, 2012
9:16 PM, Apr. 4, 2012
The Star Press
[Excerpts] The planned second day of testimony in the Delaware Circuit Court 2 murder trial of Benjamin Hankins was postponed Wednesday due to a defense attorney's illness. Officials hoped the trial would be able to resume at 9 a.m. today... The trial will not be in session on Good Friday, and is not expected to end until next week.
BLOODY PRINTS ON HANKINS' SHIRT MATCH VICTIM'S SHOES, WITNESS SAYS
The Star Press
Written by Douglas Walker
11:23 PM, Apr. 5, 2012
[Excerpts] Bloody shoeprints found on the T-shirt that Benjamin Hankins was wearing at the time of his wife [Lisa "Nettie" Hankins]'s fatal shooting match the tread on his alleged victim's shoes, a forensic scientist said Thursday... When they make their final remarks to jurors next week, prosecutors Zachary Craig and Eric Hoffman are expected to refer to those shoeprints in a bid to bolster their claim that Hankins was standing over his already wounded victim when he fired a third and final gunshot that struck her leg. The day of the shooting, Hankins apparently told police he shot in self-defense after his wife - who had left him the previous summer and was pursuing a divorce - pulled another gun from his holster and threatened him. The same Indiana State Police scientist who analyzed the shoeprints, Roxanne Brooks, said she didn't find Lisa Hankins' fingerprints on that holster... Pathologist Paul Mellen said the 32-year-old victim was likely hit by three bullets -- one in the leg; one that passed through her arm, creating an apparent defensive wound, and then entered her chest and lung, and a third bullet that passed through her lower torso. The victim essentially bled to death, Mellen said, and likely could have survived her wounds only with a quick emergency medical response. Authorities allege Benjamin Hankins waited 17 minutes after firing the gunshots before he called 911... An ISP forensic biologist said he found no DNA on the handgun that Benjamin Hankins claims his wife pointed at him... An ISP blood-spatter analyst said the blood on Benjamin Hankins' .45-caliber semi-automatic handgun likely came from a source "a couple of feet" from the weapon when it was fired...
BENJAMIN HANKINS FOUND GUILTY OF MURDER
The Muncie Star Press
6:17 PM, Apr. 11, 2012
MUNCIE — A jury on Wednesday found rural Gaston resident Benjamin Hankins guilty of murdering his wife, Lisa "Nettie" Hankins.
The jury determined Hankins deserves an enhanced sentence of five years beyond the normal 65-year maximum. Members determined in a second phase of the trial that Hankins used a firearm in the crime. His sentencing is set for May. 10.
Hankins kept his eyes downcast as the verdict was read, and he did not appear surprised. His supporters were composed, and survivors of the victim shed tears of relief.
Judge Alan Wilson's Delaware Circuit Court 2 had a standing-room-only crowd for the decision. Those in attendance included relatives of both Ben Hankins and Lisa Hankins, as well as several Delaware County deputies.
The verdict came after about 150 minutes of deliberating, which also included time for the panel to eat lunch.
There was a heavy security presence in the courtroom, and prior to the reading, Hankins sat alone at the defense table.
NETTIE'S FAMILY 'BREATHES A LITTLE DEEPER'
The Muncie Star Press
11:15 PM, Apr. 11, 2012
MUNCIE -- Benjamin Hankins' demeanor changed little Wednesday afternoon when he learned he had been convicted of murder.
As he had for much of his Delaware Circuit Court 2 trial, the 37-year-old rural Gaston man kept his eyes downcast as Judge Alan Wilson read the guilty verdict, reached by a jury comprised of seven women and five men that deliberated for about 150 minutes.
Hankins -- who gunned down his 32-year-old estranged wife, Lisa "Nettie" Hankins, in the defendant's Harrison Township home last June 3 -- will face a standard 55-year prison term when he is sentenced by Wilson on May 10.
Because jurors -- in an abbreviated second trial after the murder conviction was announced -- also made a formal finding that Hankins used a firearm in committing his crime, a five-year sentence enhancement will be added to the prison term imposed by Wilson.
While Hankins and members of his family remained composed when the verdict was announced, a few of the shooting victim's survivors shed tears of relief and exchanged hugs after jurors left the courtroom.
"I can breathe a little deeper right now," Jason Adams, married to one of Lisa Hankins' two sisters, said a few minutes later. "All praise to God."
Adams said seeing the "load lifted" from the shoulders of Nick and Andrea Peterson -- the shooting victim's parents, who are raising her three young children -- brought him to tears.
"It's never been about vengeance," Adams said. "It's about a desire to for God's will to be done."
Defense attorney John Quirk had rested his case -- which consisted of showing jurors a video recording of his largely unresponsive client being questioned by a police officer two days after his arrest, and playing an audio recording of an angry voice-mail message Lisa Hankins left on her husband's phone several weeks before her death -- on Wednesday morning without calling his client to the witness stand.
In their closing statements to jurors, deputy prosecutors Eric Hoffman and Zachary Craig focused on threatening text messages Hankins had sent his spouse during the 10 months they were separated.
They also maintained Hankins' claims -- made to police the day of the slaying, that he had opened fire on his wife only after she had pointed another of his handguns at him -- were refuted by the evidence.
Hoffman said the defendant "chose to gun (the victim) down like an animal, and execute her in that kitchen."
The deputy prosecutor said the killing came after Hankins realized "his bullying and threatening" and "sanctimonious text messages" would not persuade his wife to end her pursuit of a divorce.
Craig noted that after moving to Muncie, Lisa Hankins on school days drove her children to their father's home, where the two oldest youngsters caught a bus to Wes-Del Elementary School.
The defendant used his spouse's "love for her children to murder her," he added.
Defense attorney Quirk maintained it defied "common sense" to suggest his client had planned the killing.
He insisted the self-defense claim was credible, saying Lisa Hankins had entered the defendant's house "mad" and "upset" after the defendant threatened, via text message, to distribute nude photographs of her to acquaintances.
"He had a reasonable belief that she was going to shoot him," the defense attorney said. "It doesn't make any less tragic of a story."
Quirk also questioned the relevancy of testimony that Hankins waited as long as 17 minutes after shooting his wife to call 911. The victim bled to death after being hit by three bullets, one that went through an arm and entered her chest, another that passed through her lower torso, and a third that struck a leg.
"Once those shots were fired, nothing could have saved Nettie," Quirk said.
The defense attorney also read Biblical passages condemning divorce and adultery, telling jurors they "reflect my client's view."
Another of Nettie Hankins' brothers-in-law, Anderson pastor James Proctor, said in an interview that it was the faith of the victim's survivors that carried them through the ordeal of her loss.
"There's been a real singleness of focus," he said, adding that even with the relief brought by Wednesday's verdict, "it still doesn't bring her back."
Craig, prosecuting his first murder case, said no consideration had been given to offering a plea agreement.
"It was one of those cases that needed to be tried," he said.
HANKINS SENTENCING HEARING COMES TO ABRUPT HALT
Muncie Star Press
May. 10, 2012
A sentencing hearing for Benjamin Hankins -- convicted of murder in the June 2011 shooting death of his estranged wife -- came to an abrupt end on Thursday.
Delaware Circuit Court 2 Judge Alan Wilson ordered that Hankins -- who had earlier given a rambling 49-minute statement in which he alternately apologized to and condemned his victim's survivors -- be evaluated by a local psychiatrist and psychologist before he is sentenced.
The judge said any assessment of the 37-year-old Hankins' mental condition would have no bearing on his murder conviction, but could be a factor in his sentencing.
Thursday's proceedings concluded before either deputy prosecutors Eric Hoffman and Zachary Craig or public defenders John and Jack Quirk made any arguments concerning what sentence Hankins should receive.
The hearing will resume after Hankins is interviewed and evaluated by the mental health professionals, Wilson said.
Hankins -- who gunned down 32-year-old Lisa "Nettie" Hankins in the defendant's Harrison Township home last June 3 -- had told the judge he was a victim of a conspiracy, maintaining police had tampered with a handgun he claimed his victim had threatened him with before he shot her three times.
"Someone is responsible for the pistol being cleaned, not only of blood but of fingerprints that would have proved Nettie held it," he said.
Hankins referred to Hoffman as "the beast." a nickname he said other jail inmates had for the deputy prosecutor, and called Kurt Walthour, county police investigator, "a liar."
He said virtually every prosecution witness had lied to secure his conviction, and criticized coverage of his case by The Star Press.
Hankins -- who didn't testify at last month's trial -- called the proceedings "a mockery of the justice system," adding he had been the victim of "lies, a crooked investigation and trial."
He at times lambasted his wife's parents, sisters and their husbands, saying they had "hated and persecuted me for years," at some family gatherings "mocking me and hurting my feelings."
Hankins -- a reserve Gaston police officer and prison guard at the time of the slaying -- called himself a "laid-back, easy-going country boy" who was never appreciated by his wife's family of "vain city slickers."
At some points, he offered the targets of his criticism his tearful apologies.
"I took Nettie from you," he said. "I'm sorry for my sin."
Then, however, he would return to his castigation of his wife's family, saying more than once, "Shame on you."
Hankins also battled to control his emotions as he remembered his first date with his future spouse, recalling "those beautiful blue eyes," saying he knew almost instantly "she was the one for me."
He wept as he recalled the births of the couple's three "sweet, beautiful, innocent children."
Hankins said his wife -- who left him and sued for divorce in the late summer of 2010 -- gave in to "her own lusts and selfishness," influenced by "a lie by Satan" and her "non-Bible-believing co-workers."
He also read several passages from the Bible, most addressing the issue of divorce, which Hankins said he didn't condone.
"We lived in an increasingly wicked society," Hankins said, where "marriage has been made a mockery."
After Hankins' remarks ended -- a few seconds shy of 50 minutes after they began -- Judge Wilson called for a recess, and asked to meet with attorneys in his chambers.
When he later returned to the bench, Wilson said it would "be in the best interests of everyone" to have Hankins evaluated by mental health examiners.
The resulting reports will "supplement" a pre-sentence investigation report, the judge said, but will "not disturb the verdict of the jury in any way."
"You are not required to talk to the evaluators," Wilson told Hankins. "However, it would be greatly to your advantage to do so."
The only other witness at Thursday's hearing was Jason Adams, married to one of Nettie Hankins' two sisters, and spokesman for her family.
"Life is about consequences," Adams said. "We reap what we sow. ... The consequence is three children no longer having their mother."
Adams maintained his former brother-in-law - who faces up to 70 years in prison - deserves a maximum sentence.
"People are fearful for their lives if he gets out early, and rightly so," he said.
Hankins, for his part, later had harsh words for his ex-brother-in-law, calling him "spineless" and telling him he had "sinned against God."
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