Valrico murder and carjacking suspect was previously handed life-sentence, so why was he set free?

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VALRICO, Fla. — The Valrico man accused of a robbing a bank and then carjacking and killing a man Tuesday, previously cut a deal and was freed from a life sentence, according to the state attorney’s office.

James Hanson Jr. is currently being held on no bond in the Hillsborough County jail for the murder and kidnapping of 68 year old Mathew Korattiyil, also of Valrico.

Photo of carjacking victim Mathew Korattiyil

8 On Your Side found that Hanson is a violent habitual offender who was sentenced to life in Florida state prison after robbing a bank in 2002. In 2016 Hanson made a deal with the state, and was released early July 2019.

In 2016, court records show Hanson was fighting his conviction, claiming prosecutors withheld key information and therefore wanted a new trial. At the same time, the state attorney’s office says Hanson became a key witness in another case.

Robert Alton Henderson III was on trial for murder and robbery, and apparently had confessed his crimes to Hanson. In exchange for his testimony, the state agreed to dismiss his life sentence.

Hanson served his reduced sentence and was released in July 2019, to serve ten years of probation.

A month later, Hanson is facing new charges, including kidnapping and murder.

Full statement from State Attorney Andrew Warren’s office:

Defendant James Hanson is currently being held without bail for the murder of Mathew Korattiyil, and we will work tirelessly to prosecute this case to the fullest extent of the law to achieve justice for Mathew, and our entire community.

Our office has charged James Hanson with first degree murder, kidnapping, carjacking, robbery, grand theft motor vehicle, and resisting an officer with violence.  Hanson was released from prison last month to begin ten years of probation after serving a twenty-year sentence in connection with a 2002 robbery. In 2003, Hanson was initially sentenced to life in prison for that robbery.

In 2016, Hanson became a material witness in the prosecution of another defendant, Robert Alton Henderson III, on charges of first-degree murder and robbery. Henderson confessed his crimes to Hanson and solicited Hanson to kill two witnesses in Henderson’s case. Hanson provided this information to law enforcement and testified at trial against Henderson. Hanson’s testimony was critical in convicting Henderson of murder and robbery, for which Henderson is serving a life sentence.

At the same time in 2016, Hanson was seeking a new trial for his 2002 conviction on multiple grounds. The presiding court found some of Hanson’s grounds to be tenable. In consideration of his post-conviction claims and the substantial testimony he provided against Henderson, the State Attorney’s Office agreed to a sentence of twenty years imprisonment plus ten years of probation for Hanson. In short, in May 2016, the State Attorney’s Office concluded that reducing Hanson’s sentence was appropriate to convict a murderer and keep Hanson in prison for three additional years plus probation without risking a new trial for Hanson. The hard reality of our criminal justice system is that sometimes prosecutors have to use the testimony of criminals to convict other criminals.

Mathew’s death is a senseless tragedy, and our office extends its deepest condolences to his family and friends. State Attorney Warren has spoken with Mathew’s family, and the Korattiyil family requests that the media respects its privacy during this time.

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