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Mary Nance HANSON





Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Custody battle
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: January 29, 2010
Date of arrest: Same day
Date of birth: 1939
Victim profile: Tetyana Nikitina, 34 (her former daughter-in-law)
Method of murder: Shooting (.38-caliber revolver)
Location: Salt Lake City, Utah, USA
Status: Pleaded guilty. Sentenced to 15 years to life in prison on October 22, 2010
photo gallery

Woman sentenced to up to life in prison for killing daughter-in-law

October 22, 2010

SALT LAKE CITY (ABC 4 News) - A woman who admitted killing her former daughter-in-law could spend the rest of her life in prison, but she actually asked for worse.

Today a judge sentenced Mary Nance Hanson to 15 years to life in prison.

Hanson says she shot Tetyana Nikitina outside a Millcreek Head Start building back in January. Nikitina had divorced Hanson’s son and was fighting for custody of their children.

Today Nikitina's fiancée spoke out after the sentencing. Rod Hernandez said, “I’m glad she's been sentenced. But it doesn't bring her back. She had asked for the death penalty. I don't want her dead. I really don't. I want her to be on this earth and suffer with the rest of us.”

Hanson herself had asked for the death penalty, but the judge told her the case does not qualify for that.


Taylorsville woman requests death penalty, pleads guilty to shooting ex-daughter-in-law

By Emiley Morgan and Lana Groves -

August 19, 2010

SALT LAKE CITY — A 71-year-old Taylorsville woman charged with gunning down her former daughter-in-law in a preschool parking lot pleaded guilty Wednesday and immediately asked the judge to sentence her to death.

"I would like to be sent forthwith to the prison, and I would like to request death by lethal injection," Mary Nance Hanson told 3rd District Judge William Barrett.

When the judge advised Hanson that hers was not a death penalty case, she responded: "Well, then I guess I didn't do a good enough job."

That comment infuriated Rod Hernandez, who had been engaged to marry Tetyana Nikitina just two weeks after Hanson shot and killed her. He said it took all his might to keep himself from screaming at the woman from his seat in the courtroom.

"She feels no remorse for what she's done," he told the Deseret News.

Hernandez was on the phone with his fiancee when Hanson fired multiple rounds at Nikitina, 34, while the woman was trying to drive away from the Millcreek preschool where she worked. Although he heard popping sounds, he assumed she'd been involved in a crash and didn't find out what happened until he drove to the scene.

Hanson was charged with murder, a first-degree felony, for the Jan. 29 shooting. She faces a maximum sentence of 15 years to life in prison.

After the shots were fired, Hanson called 911. When asked why she had fired the shots, police say Hanson said, "I don't know, and that's all I'm going to say."

Hanson penned a letter to the judge in April asking to change her plea to guilty, stating "my physical health is deteriorating rapidly, and I do not believe it would be in the best interests of taxpayers or of myself to pursue a trial." She later told the judge that the reason she wanted to change her plea was because she "just wanted to get out of jail."

Hanson's attorney, Tawni Hanseen, said after the hearing that her client is "sad" and "depressed" but wouldn't say whether those emotions stemmed from remorse or her distaste for life in jail. She said Hanson had never previously indicated that she would make a death penalty request to the judge. Hanseen has said the woman's competency is not an issue.

Nikitina had been married to Hanson's son, Dale Jankowski, and the couple had two children. Nikitina filed for divorce from Jankowski in February 2005.

Twice after the divorce, Nikitina filed for protective orders against Jankowski, claiming cohabitant abuse, according to court records. Though the records indicate that the divorce and ensuing custody battle have been rife with anger, police have said they were unaware of anything that might have prompted such violent actions.

Hernandez was surprised Wednesday to hear Hanson request lethal injection.

Although the West Valley City man said he still struggles every day realizing he'll never get to marry "the woman of my dreams," he doesn't want Hanson to die.

"First I'm worried that because of her request, the judge might not think she's in her right mind," Hernandez said. "And second, I don't want her dead because there's a lot more that needs to come out of this."

Hernandez told the newspaper Hanson would leave threatening voice mail messages for Nikitina.

"Tetyana let me listen to one of the voice mails in which (Hanson) would say, 'Those kids shouldn't be with you. Their dad was supposed to have the kids," he said.

Pictures, memories and occasional visits to Nikitina's two children help keep his fiancee's memory alive for him. Hernandez is also organizing a fundraiser to remember Nikitina and raise money for her children.

The event, set for Oct. 16, will be held at the West Valley Cultural Celebration Center and several bands and groups have already signed up. Hernandez hopes the event will not just be a tribute to Nikitina, but also a way for others to remember their loved ones killed through domestic violence.

"It's especially needed for people who have suffered the way I have," he said. "October is the month in observance for women who have suffered from violent acts. We can all be there, crying on each other's shoulders and remembering who we've lost."

Hanson will be sentenced Oct. 8 after a pre-sentence report is prepared. She faces a maximum sentence of 15 years to life in prison.


Former mother-in-law charged in slaying makes first court appearance

By Stephen Hunt - The Salt Lake Tribune

February 8, 2010

A 70-year-old woman accused of fatally shooting her former daughter-in-law outside a preschool appeared in court for the first time Monday.

Mary Nance Hanson is charged with first-degree felony murder in the death of Tetyana Nikitina, who was shot four times in the head on Jan. 29 at the Salt Lake Community Action Program Head Start, 336 E. 3900 South.

A judge found Hanson was indigent, assigned her a public defender and set a scheduling hearing for Feb. 22 before 3rd District Judge William Barrett.

Hanson walked up to Nikitina's vehicle and began shooting at the woman, according to witnesses. At one point, she appeared to reload the gun so she could continue shooting, charges state.

Nikitina, 34, had been a preschool teacher at Head Start for two years.

When Nikitina filed for divorce from her husband of seven years in 2005, she cited a difficult relationship with Hanson, calling her "verbally abusive," claiming she had a history of psychiatric issues and that she had been combative over her grandchildren.

The Unified Police Department last week served a search warrant on the Taylorsville home of Dale Jankowski, but police have said there is no evidence he is connected to the slaying.

Hanson remains in the Salt Lake County jail in lieu of $1 million bail.


Court documents: Daughter-in-law had difficult relationship with mother-in-law accused of her murder

Tetyana Nikitina and her ex-husband, Dale Jankowski, were embroiled in a bitter custody dispute

By Melinda Rogers - The Salt Lake Tribune

February 3, 2010

Among the grievances Tetyana Nikitina cited when she filed for divorce from her husband of seven years in 2005 was her mother-in-law, who she called "verbally abusive" and claimed had a history of psychiatric issues.

Mary Nance Hanson, 70, bad-mouthed Nikitina to her children and grandchildren and tried to keep Nikitina from picking up her children during times stipulated in a custody agreement, according to documents that detail Nikitina's lengthy divorce.

"I have a difficult relationship with her and she has had a history of being overbearing and controlling of her children," Nikitina wrote in an affidavit filed in 3rd District Court on Jan.3, 2006, as part of her divorce proceedings to Hanson's son, Dale Jankowski.

"I have been told by Dale and his family members that she has a history of psychiatric treatment and has created problems in their life due to her interference. She has a history of taking sides in which had led to alienation and great problems between her family members," wrote Nikitina, a native of the Ukraine, whose written English skills are limited.

Hanson has told police she shot Nikitina on Friday at Salt Lake Community Action Program Head Start, 336 E. 3900 South, where Nikitina was a teacher. Charges in the case are pending.

The Unified Police Department on Monday served a search warrant on the Taylorsville home of Jankowski and continues the investigation into the circumstances surrounding Nikitina's murder. Unified Police Department Lt. Don Hutson said Tuesday it appears that so far there is no evidence that Jankowski is connected to the slaying.

"I don't see an arrest being imminent at this point," Hutson said of potential involvement on Jankowski's part.

A phone message left at Jankowski's home on Tuesday was not returned.

In court documents, Nikitina cited several instances in which Hanson allegedly became combative over her grandchildren.

In one incident, Nikitina asked Hanson to baby-sit but canceled the arrangement because of a change in plans.

"She insisted on taking the children anyway despite my wishes and a conflict followed. She does not respect my role as a parent to the children and seems to take her only direction from Dale," Nikitina wrote in a 2006 affidavit. "I am afraid she is telling negative things about me to the children."

Nikitina outlined an episode where Hanson allegedly refused to let her see her children when she dropped by the woman's apartment, according to a court deposition dated Sept. 21, 2005. Nikitina said she became concerned about her children's welfare and didn't know her estranged husband had picked up the children from daycare.

She feared he had kidnapped the children, court records state, and went to Hanson's home to look for them. When she arrived at Hanson's home, "I knocked on the door and his mother would not allow me to even see the children. I saw Stefan and Sasha crying, and Stefan screamed and wanted to go with me," the documents state.

She said she left Hanson's home, but returned later in the day. During the second visit, Stefan opened the door and greeted his mother. Nikitina said she couldn't find Hanson and decided to take her children from the home, documents state.

She put the children in her vehicle and started to drive away. But Hanson then appeared and got into her own vehicle. Hanson "cut across" in front of Nikitina and made her daughter-in-law swerve into a neighbor's car, documents state. "I looked behind me to make sure the children were alright, and at that moment I contacted the police. The police came and took the report and said that it was [Hanson's fault she hit the car] because she cut in front of me," Nikitina said in the disposition.

Nikitina and her ex-husband traded accusations throughout their five-year legal battle, court documents show. The two married in 1999 and had two children together: Stefan, born in 2000 and Sasha, born in 2005.

The couple separated in 2005. Nikitina moved into an apartment, while Jankowski continued living in the couple's Taylorsville home, court documents state.

Divorce papers showed the couple continually argued about custody. Both accused each other of kidnapping their children at different points during the court proceedings. Nikitina complained that Jankowski would pick their children up at daycare without telling her, while Jankowski feared Nikitina was going to flee the country to her native Kiev without telling him, separate depositions filed in the case show.

Jankowski claimed that Nikitina wasn't pursuing employment to help support the couple's children during their marriage and following their divorce and alleged the woman's motives for wanting custody were so she could have financial support from Jankowski, according to court records. She gave up a job making $7.25 an hour at ABC Preschool in West Valley City to stay home with her children, court records show. She later earned close to $12 an hour working at Head Start.

He said that his ex-wife once threatened to take his kids from him if he didn't pay her more money than the court-ordered child support, court records show. Three foster children and a teenager whom Jankowski has guardianship of lived in the man's home, according to 2009 court documents.

Hanson remains in the Salt Lake County jail on suspicion of first-degree felony murder.


Court records in Salt Lake Head Start school teacher killing show a couple at war

By Linda Thomson -

Monday, Feb. 1, 2010

Long before teacher Tetyana Nikitina was shot to death Friday, she said she feared for her life.

In fact, according to divorce records filed in 2005, the 34-year-old Ukranian immigrant also said she was terrified her then-husband would kill their two children.

Nikitina was gunned down Friday afternoon as she left the Salt Lake Head Start school where she worked. Police say she was fatally shot by her former mother-in-law, 70-year-old Mary Nance Hanson.

Unified Police executed a search warrant Monday on the Taylorsville home of Nikitina's ex-husband and Hanson's son, Dale Jankowski. Police said they hoped they could piece together the circumstances that led to Nikitina's death.

For his part, Jankowski said in voluminous divorce records filed in 3rd District Court that Nikitina was trying to set him up with false accusations of domestic abuse, and he was deeply afraid that she would flee the United States with their children — which resulted in a battle over the children's passports.

"There is no label for him (such as person of interest)," Unified Police Lt. Don Hutson said. "He is just a relative of the suspect." Hutson said investigators are interested in the relationship Nikitina had with Hanson, who called 911 after the shooting.

Meanwhile, the marriage between Jankowski and Nikitina appeared to be tumultuous, if their reams of divorce papers are any indication.

Hundreds of pages of court records show a warring couple fighting over the typical issues of child custody and money.

But rage and fear spill from the pages over relatively small things — plastic playground equipment, possession of gold Christian crosses for the children, wooden plates from Russia — to larger issues including she-said-he-said claims of domestic violence, threats and suggestions of child neglect.

The couple married in February 1999.

By February 2005, Nikitina filed for divorce, but the battle was still continuing through December 2009.

The couple got a bifurcated divorce decree on Jan. 6, 2006, on grounds of irreconcilable differences. A bifurcated divorce means the union has been dissolved, but certain legal issues still have to be resolved. Jankowski got their Taylorsville home, and Nikitina got her maiden name back.

The court in 2006 also spelled out parent time schedules, rules about out-of-state travel and emergencies, and ordered both adults to refrain from making nasty remarks about the other in front of the children. Their two children, who now are in Jankowski's custody, are 7 and 9.

Nikitina sought protective orders in August 2005 and January 2006.

She reported at one point that her husband forcefully picked her up and threw her onto the floor in front of the children, leaving bruises and red finger marks, which were photographed by police.

In a handwritten statement dated Aug. 5, 2005, Nikitina wrote in broken English that Jankowski had stalked her, yelled and swore at her in front of the children, and told her if she gave him the children, he would give her a car.

"I affraid for my life and kid's," she wrote in a statement with many misspellings since English was not her first language. "I won't protect myself bekose he wery med at me and angry. I don't know wot going to be next."

Jankowski, 45, meanwhile, strongly denied any claims of abuse and feared his estranged wife might leave the country with the children, according to court records. He also said she wanted more time with the children so she could keep state assistance and not have to work.

An investigation into a child-neglect claim that was lodged before the divorce petition was filed came into play as part of the long-standing custody fight.

The Division of Children and Family Services got involved in August 2003 when Nikitina left the youngsters, then ages 2 and 8 months, alone in a car while she was inside a beauty salon. She told a caseworker that they were alone for only 2-5 minutes with the windows rolled down while she was trying to pay a bill. She said she did not have enough money for a manicure, then said it was for a haircut. Nikitina ended up calling Jankowski for help. She said he was furious upon arrival, yelled at her and called her a bad mother, and then called authorities.

The caseworker states that Nikitina said she had only recently arrived in the United States and did not realize it was illegal to leave children alone and promised not to do it again. The report notes that Nikitina burst into tears and said this was the first time in months that she had done anything for herself. It also notes that Nikitina said she could see the children from where she was, but a salon worker shook her head, indicating that was not true.

The case was completed in September 2003 after DCFS visited the family home and found the house clean and the children healthy and well. DCFS provided both parents with information about the laws regarding children, day-care, respite and crisis nursery care, parenting classes and other support.


Police say teacher was killed by former mother-in-law

By Abigail Shaha and Joseph M. Daugherty -

January 31, 2010

WEST VALLEY CITY — Through the cell phone, the popping sounded like a light bulb exploding.

Then the phone on the other end seemed to hit plastic.

The engine was still running.

But there was no response.

The likely scenario, Rod Hernandez thought, was that his fiancee had just been in a crash, hit broadside because she was talking on the phone to him.

The horrific truth was yet to be revealed to him, that Tetyana Nikitina, whom he was going to marry Feb. 14, had been gunned down in her car as she was leaving the school where she worked.

For minutes, Rod Hernandez waited on the phone, not daring to hang up. He left the pork chops he had been cooking and began the drive to the Salt Lake CAP Head Start.

Through the phone, he began to hear sirens, then men talking — paramedics.

He was still on the phone when he arrived to find the area around Nikitina's car cordoned off by police tape.

"I found out she got shot," Rod Hernandez said.

Later, at the hospital, he learned Nikitina, 34, had died.

Unified Police officers arrested Nikitina's ex-mother-in-law, Mary Nance Hanson, 70, on investigation of murder.

Hanson is a concealed weapons permit holder, and her most recent address is in Taylorsville. Investigators found her car parked about a mile away from the crime scene, said Unified Police Lt. Don Hutson.

Police say Hanson fired several shots at Nikitina, then reloaded and fired several more rounds.

And for the past two days, Rod Hernandez has been left replaying his last hours with Nikitina.

"When I woke up in the morning to go to work, I didn't want to go," he said. "She was there, and I was holding her. When I left, I just wanted her there so bad."

Then there was the phone call — that last one — at 3:27 p.m.

Originally, Rod Hernandez and Nikitina had planned to get married in May, but started getting antsy and moved the wedding up to Valentine's Day.

He now wishes he had married her sooner.

"I'm never going to meet another woman like that," he said.

Family members gathered at Hernandez's West Valley home Saturday to mourn Nikitina, who was known as Tanya.

They remembered her as sweet, loving and kind.

She called them a blessing in her life, said Rod Hernandez's mother, Mary Hernandez.

"She always wanted a family," she said.

Nikitina has two children with her former husband, Hanson's son, Dale Jankowski.

According to Utah State Court records, Nikitina filed for divorce from Jankowski in February 2005.

Twice after the divorce, in August 2005 and again in January 2006, Nikitina filed for protective orders against Jankowski, claiming cohabitant abuse, court records show.

"We still can't identify a specific event that may have triggered (Hanson)," Hutson said. "The divorce has been occurring for quite some time, (along with) custody battles, but that's nothing new."

But Rod Hernandez said Hanson never liked Nikitina.

Once for Nikitina's birthday, Hanson's gift was an envelope containing a coupon for a feminine product.

Rod Hernandez's brother, Desi Hernandez, said Nikitina was terrified of her ex-husband, Jankowski.

"He was a really cruel guy," Desi Hernandez said. "He was really bitter."

Jankowski would come by on weekends to pick up his kids, Desi Hernandez said. Sometimes Nikitina would ask him if she could come to his apartment when Jankowski would come so she wouldn't be alone.

Desi Hernandez said he heard from a friend of Jankowski's that Hanson had made threats against Nikitina, even saying, "One of these days I'm going to get a gun and shoot her."

Some neighbors, who lived near Nikitina and Jankowski before the divorce, were shocked to learn of the killing but said they were not surprised. They said Nikitina and Hanson did not get along.

Hanson was close with her son and spent time at his house nearly every day, neighbors said. Jankowski cared for teenage foster boys, many of whom were often troubled. Neighbors recalled at least one occasion where one of Jankowski's foster children was arrested. They said Nikitina worried about her two young children interacting with the foster children and was working to gain more custody.

Contributing: Emily James


Teacher shot to death in Millcreek parking lot

By Pat Reavy -

January 30, 2010

MILLCREEK — An assistant preschool teacher was shot and killed Friday as she was leaving the school to go home.

Tetyana Nikitina, 34, died when Mary Nance Hanson, 70, fired several shots at her as Nikitina drove away, said Unified Police Lt. Don Hutson. Hanson then reloaded and allegedly fired several more rounds.

The shooting occurred about 3:30 p.m. in the parking lot of the Hal J. Schultz facility of the Salt Lake CAP Head Start school at 336 E. 3900 South.

Police would not comment Friday on how Hanson and Nikitina may have known each other, but the Deseret News has learned through other sources that the women may be related or were related.

Nikitina had just left the school for the day and got into her car when Hanson approached her and opened fire, Hutson said.

Hanson, armed with a .38-caliber revolver, unloaded her gun into the car as Nikitina sat in the driver's seat and began to pull away. Hanson then reloaded and continued firing through the car at close range, he said.

The revolver typically holds five rounds. Police would not say how many shots they believe were fired.

Hanson then put down her gun and called 911. When officers arrived, she was waiting for them.

When asked why she had fired the shots, Hutson said the only explanation Hanson offered a 911 operator was, "I don't know, and that's all I'm going to say."

Police also received multiple other 911 calls from employees inside the school and others in the area. There were no students at the school at the time.

After Nikitina was shot, her car rolled forward into another vehicle. She was still behind the steering wheel when officers arrived. Nikitina was taken to a local hospital, where she was pronounced dead.

When asked if the alleged shooter had any signs of impairment or illness, Hutson said, "She looked coherent. She made appropriate (answers) when we asked her questions."

Hanson was booked into the Salt Lake County Jail Friday for investigation of murder. She is a concealed weapons permit holder, and her most recent address is in Taylorsville. Investigators found her car parked about a mile away from the crime scene, Hutson said.

According to Utah State Court records, Nikitina filed for divorce from a man named Dale Jankowski in February of 2005. But twice after that, in August 2005 and again in January 2006, Nikitina filed for a protective orders against the man, claiming cohabitant abuse.


Killed For Custody

A custody battle ends with a mother’s murder

By Carolyn Campbell -

October 6, 2010

Rod Hernandez heard his life shatter. On the afternoon of Jan. 29, 2010, his fiancee Tetyana “Tanya” Nikitina’s 9-year-old son was watching TV in the living room while Hernandez cooked pork chops for dinner. He was getting ready to pick up Nikitina’s 7-year-old daughter from school.

Phoning him at 3:37 p.m., Nikitina was walking to her car. She sat behind the steering wheel and started the engine while speaking words brimming with happiness. It was Friday, she was headed home from an employee-training session at Salt Lake Community Action Program Head Start, at 336 E. 3900 South. She repeatedly told Hernandez how much she loved him. Suddenly, she exclaimed, “Oh, my God!” Hernandez heard the phone fall. He waited four minutes without hearing her voice. Telling Nikitina’s son he would be right back and holding the phone to his ear, he rushed to the preschool where Nikitina taught. Halfway there, he heard sirens and wondered if another car had hit Nikitina’s as she left the school.

As he walked past yellow police tape, Hernandez says an officer told him, “You’re in a crime scene.” Since Nikitina had borrowed Hernandez’s car that day, he told police who he was and that his fiancee may have been in an accident driving his car. The officer told Hernandez, “Your fiancee has been shot. An ambulance took her. We will take you to where she is."

Hernandez immediately called Nikitina’s ex-husband, Dale Jankowski, to tell him Nikitina had been shot and to ask him to pick up the children. “He said, ‘Oh, my God, bye!’” Hernandez says.

At the hospital, Hernandez waited for answers until a policeman told him that 34-year-old Nikitina had died. The medical examiner would later show the cause of death was four gunshot wounds to the head.

“A woman did this,” the officer told Hernandez. Then Hernandez heard the killer’s name: Mary Nance Hanson. Hernandez was stunned to learn that Nikitina’s former mother-in-law had murdered her.

It had been 11 tumultuous years since Jankowski, Hanson’s son, and Nikitina had married, had two children together, divorced and then attempted to live separate lives. While a divorce decree was issued in 2006, court documents show that hot-button issues of custody and child support continued to fester between the couple. Nikitina had sought out two protective orders in the intervening years and reportedly feared for her life.

“Ultimately, we all know why this happened,” Hernandez says. “If Dale had treated Tanya with respect, realized that his children love her as much they love him and that anything that happens to her also happens to them, there wouldn’t have been this outcome. If that conflict hadn’t been there, Tanya would still be alive.”

Jankowski, 45, calmly insists he had nothing to do with the murder. He says that he felt a similar tremendous shock after Hernandez called him to pick up the children, phoning later to let him know that Nikitina was dead. “My heart was breaking for my kids. I knew that they needed their mother and father, and now they weren’t going to have their mother in their life.”

He remembers Hernandez telling him that his mother was the killer. “I literally became incapacitated and couldn’t think or do anything. I kind of went into zombie mode. It was the most difficult drive I’ve ever had, having to take the kids back to the house. The worst part was, in the same day, I lost my mom, and my kids lost their mom and their grandmother."

Mommy dearest

Just who their grandmother is and why she shot Nikitina may have to remain a mystery.

According to Jankowski, prior to the attack, his mother had parked her car at his workplace, a mortgage title company. He says she had just become uncomfortable driving. When they talked earlier that day and she mentioned she was concerned about her car, “I thought she was going downtown to a doctor’s or dentist’s appointment."

Instead, police say, Hanson walked about a mile to the preschool where Nikitina worked as an assistant teacher. As Nikitina got in her car, witnesses say, Hanson approached and fired several rounds from a .38-caliber revolver at her former daughter-in-law, then allegedly reloaded, opened the car door and fired several more rounds. She then dialed 911, reported her crime and waited for police to come. When asked why she shot Nikitina, Hanson reportedly told the 911 operator, “I don’t know, and that’s all I’m going to say.”

While news media reported that Hanson held a concealed-weapon permit, Jankowski maintains he never knew she had a gun.

The 71-year-old Taylorsville woman was booked into jail and charged with murder. She pleaded guilty in 3rd District Court on Aug. 18. In a letter that Hanson wrote to Judge William Barrett in April, she explained why she would be pleading guilty: “My physical health is deteriorating rapidly, and I do not believe it would be in the best interests of taxpayers or of myself to pursue a trial.”

In the courtroom, Hanson told the judge, “I would like to be sent forthwith to the prison, and I would like to request death by lethal injection.”

When told her case was not eligible for the death penalty, Hanson reportedly told the judge: “Well, then, I guess I didn’t do a good enough job.”

Such a remark can only make the incredulous public ask: How is Hanson’s not a death-penalty case? Alicia Cook, the deputy district attorney who prosecuted the case, explains the death penalty can only be sought if certain statutory elements, or aggravators, are present. Examples of aggravators include if the defendant killed more than one person, if the defendant murdered while committing other offenses such as a sexual assault, or if the defendant used a device, such as a bomb. “That is what we are limited to,” says Cook. “The statute very clearly lays out for us what needs to present to file a death-penalty case.

In her 10 years as a prosecutor, though, Cook has never experienced a defendant requesting the death penalty. “This is a baffling and sad case, in which two children lost their mother, a fiance has lost the person he was going to spend his life with and a sister lost her only sibling. It’s a sad case that we took very seriously. There was no plea bargain. The defendant pleaded to exactly what she was charged with, and the only possible sentence for the defendant is prison [15 years to life].” Hanson’s sentencing hearing is scheduled for Oct. 22 [Hanson's defense asked for and was granted a continuance].

Jankowski says that, on the night of the murder, police took him in to question him for an hour and a half while other officers simultaneously searched his home and computer “for anything that would link what my mom had just done with me. They concluded that I had nothing to do with it in any way, shape or form.”

Growing up, Jankowski says he doesn’t recall his mom having violent tendencies. He remembers about “as normal a childhood as possible in a single-parent family.” After his parents split, his mom worked a variety of jobs—“not particularly professional-type jobs.” She worked at BYU Food Services and went back to school to study drafting. His mom took him and his siblings fossil hunting and camping. He says she “parented out of the ’60s, when spankings were OK,” but it didn’t happen that often.

Recently, his mother was diagnosed with congestive heart failure, and he realized she might not be around much longer. He wanted to build memories with her and the children.

Most of his mother’s grandchildren are older—many are grown—and spending time with his son and daughter gave Hanson a renewed opportunity to grandparent younger children, after the others “had their own lives.”

While his mother expressed anger at the custody situation with his ex-wife, Jankowski says she never hinted she planned to kill Nikitina. “I wish there had been something that would have indicated a different outcome,” he laments. “It was so tragic that the only thing she could think to do was to take away the kids’ mother.”

Hanson declined to be interviewed by City Weekly.

Fathers Have Rights

The couple met, Jankowski says, when a friend of his traveled to the Ukraine and married Nikitina’s sister. His friend introduced the pair, and Nikitina emigrated to the States in 1998. They married a year later and went on to have two children together.

In the beginning, Jankowski said his mother liked Nikitina. “They had their moments, but so long as they had some space in their relationship, they were able to get along and be sociable.”

By 2005, Nikitina had filed for divorce. “It was Tanya’s decision to move out,” Jankowski said, “Her comment to me was, ‘I just want to try it on my own.’ There was no real reason—no infidelity, abuse, drugs or gambling.”

Post-divorce, Nikitina’s life was bleak, explains her sister, Anna, who lives in Florida and asked that her last name not be used in this story. “She kept getting small jobs, temporary ones, because of her two small kids. She went to electrician school and got an electrician license. She was trying so hard, but it was almost impossible.” While she holds a master’s degree in education from the Ukraine, she was underemployed in the United States. Anna says she often sent money to help Nikitina, who initially survived by living in public housing. “It was always a struggle,” she said, “and I hated to see her kids suffer—they are innocent children.”

Yet Anna adds that Nikitina was rising above her difficult situation. “After two years, she blossomed like a flower, from a person who was financially struggling and lonely to a person who was confident, had a good job and was respected by the community. She moved out of public housing and was paying rent on her own little house.”

She adds that while Jankowski initially received partial custody, and Nikitina “received very little child support,” after the judge saw what she had accomplished, he gave her complete physical custody along with more child support.

Jankowski agrees the conflict over custody was significant. He says he and Nikitina originally agreed to a 50-50 custody arrangement, where each would have the children on alternate weeks. Hernandez thinks that, for Jankowski, the 50-50 arrangement meant each parent would pay half of the children’s expenses and neither would pay child support.

On July 29, 2009, Jankowski posted a comment about the importance of fathers’ rights in custody on, a Website for Utah fathers’ rights. “For those who are serious about the issues that confront active fathers regarding custody and visitation in the state of Utah, there needs to be a more active forum of truly interested individuals. Action needs to be taken to protect the position fathers hold within their children’s lives,” Jankowski writes. “We cannot afford to be marginalized by mothers with their own agendas, attorneys seeking personal gain over the best interest of the children, and state legislators who are out of touch with the consequences of the laws that they pass. Let’s get this organized.”

He says that his strong feelings about custody arose from growing up in a single-parent home where his father wasn’t active in his life because his mother had full custody. Jankowski grew up the youngest of six children born in a seven and a half year period. He doesn’t really remember his parents being together. “For a little while, bits and pieces, then, it was either my mom or my dad [taking care of me].” He recalls his dad, who now lives in Wisconsin, being active in his life between 1967 and 1968 and in 1971.

“Typically, back then, the courts gave the mother full custody, and the father received some form of visitation,” Jankowski said. “My dad was more than willing to make sure us kids were taken care of [financially], but he was not able to be, and wasn’t considered to be, an equal participant. A lot of the fathers in Utah are relegated to the position of a visitor, having their children one night a week and so many days on the weekend. I didn’t want someone taking away my opportunity to be responsible for my children.”

He believes Nikitina changed her mind about their original 50-50 agreement and eventually sought and received full custody. “Through whatever channels were available at the time—whether it was the legal system or attorney—the original perception changed.”

Jankowski feels many fathers share his financial frustrations with typical custody arrangements. “When you are given strictly visitation and another party has full custody, yet you are required to pay the bill for the majority of those expenses and also deprived of the opportunity to be actively involved, it is the worst of both worlds,” he says.

Who Has Control

In fall 2005, the couple went through hearings and mediation. “Nothing came of the mediation,” says Jankowski. “We also ‘bifurcated’ to the divorce—indicating that while we were divorced, we understood that some matters were still disputed. I had no problems with paying child support to support the welfare of my kids. ... I was devastated by the fact that I was relegated to the visitor position. ... If my ex wife married someone whose ideas I didn’t agree with, he would have more influence with my child than I did,” Jankowski said.

Within their conflict, Jankowski says that he and Nikitina each called the police on several occasions. He says that the first of two protective orders she filed was dismissed. On another occasion, he says he called her from the rec-center parking lot where they planned to exchange the children at 1:45 p.m. After several calls with no response, he says Nikitina answered, saying her car was not working. He then drove to her apartment and arrived at 2:03 p.m. He says she accused him of being late.

“I lost my temper after having used a bad name I shouldn’t have used,” Jankowski said. “She held out a recorder and said, ‘I have been recording you.’ Attorneys don’t warn you about these entrapment things. She took two steps backward and fell on the bed in her living room. On the tape there was this false, silly-sounding scream. Her story to the police was that I pushed her.”

He says that while he didn’t touch Nikitina, police took photos of red spots on her stomach and gathered evidence. “No charges were ever filed and my ability to be a foster parent was never questioned [Jankowski was also a foster parent at the time]. The burden of proof for a protective order is so low that David Letterman got one against him when a woman said something in his monologue pertained to her.”

Nikitina also accused him of abuse and neglect, he says, to the point where the children were taken to the hospital under police escort. “There were never any findings to support her belief that there was abuse or neglect,” he says. Jankowski currently lives with both his children and two former foster sons over whom he now has guardianship.

Lori Nelson, a local domestic and family-law attorney, says that while parents believe that what they are doing is right for their children, “I don’t believe that they can fairly and completely analyze their own motives. … They are not intentionally trying to hurt their kids, but their behaviors have negative consequences on their children, which is difficult for them to see and accept.”

“Especially when there is abuse involved, custody disputes are challenging and emotionally draining,” says Keri Jones, chief program officer of the YWCA in Salt Lake City. “In our experience with domestic violence, we find that children often become a pawn, where that is the only thing an abusive partner has to control once their spouse has been removed. They will try to control the custody issues or arrangements of the children because that is all that they have left to control.”

Nelson adds that parents often will fight over joint parenting or shared time because it impacts them financially. “They will be so focused on the bottom line that, out of fear, greed or selfishness, their behaviors will have negative consequences."

Sixteen Days

Hernandez met Nikitina in on Easter of 2007. He was delivering Easter baskets to his brother’s apartment in the same building where Nikitina lived. “I was walking to the apartment and looking down at the Easter stuff, when I first saw these feet and shoes—and gorgeous legs. I looked up and saw Tanya, a beautiful lady wearing sunglasses and talking on a cell phone. It was love at first sight. The two kids were standing with her.”

It was a year before they agreed to date. Hernandez proposed to her on Aug. 15, 2009.

Before Nikitina moved in with him, Hernandez says she was always struggling to get by. “When she first came here, she didn’t know any English and she got odd jobs and worked at 7-Eleven,” Hernandez says. “After the divorce, her English still wasn’t the best, and she was alone, taking care of two kids with no one to help her.”

He says that all of the times Jankowski took Nikitina to court, it was because he didn’t want to pay child support. “Every time he took her back to court, his child support kept going up.” He says that Nikitina owed $16,000 in legal bills as a result of the continuing court battle.

Hernandez says that Hanson scared Nikitina, who referred to her former mother-in-law as her ex-husband’s “pit dog.” “Whenever there was a problem between Tanya and her son, he wouldn’t handle it, [Hanson] would.” Hernandez says that Hanson left messages on Nikitina’s phone, telling her the children should be with their father and that she was a terrible mother.

During his divorce, Hernandez had experienced his own custody conflict. After the custody battle relating to his two daughters ended, “My former wife grabbed her coffee and looked back at me. She said, ‘I had some people offer to kill you.’ ”

Reflecting on that situation, he says, “I imagine that the thought of killing their spouse crosses the minds of many people who are divorcing.”

About 2 1/2 weeks before her death, Nikitina “was leaning up against me while we were watching TV, and she suddenly became very upset. She said that if something happened to her, her children would go to that crazy family. I told her that was not going to happen, that we were getting married pretty soon and the children would be with me,” he says. Nikitina and Hernandez planned to marry on Valentine’s Day, 16 days after the day she was murdered.

“She had her wedding dress and had already given me my ring,” says Hernandez.

Jankowski views Hernandez as a solid and stable person and says, “It would have been a fine option for Tanya to have him around, it would have been beneficial for her and good for the kids, who still have a continuing relationship with Rod. I really do hope that the state of Utah and the entire country sees how important fathers are to children. Most fathers are not the runaway fathers and want to be there for their kids. Many are pushed out the door rather than leaving on their own."

How To Heal

Today, Jankowski chooses not to visit his mother “at this point in time. I don’t know what I would say or if it would be beneficial in any way.” His children drew pictures that he mailed to her. They also have many photos of both their mother and grandmother in their home.

Jankowski previously underwent therapy and both children currently visit a therapist. “They communicate to me and their therapist that they miss their mother. [My daughter] from time to time will start crying and other times say, ‘I want Mommy.’ ” He says that the children draw pictures, and he has a helium tank at home that the children use to fill balloons and attach messages to their mother.

Hernandez hopes to send his own message of hope for the future. In the ’70s, he played professionally in a band in the Las Vegas circuit. He quit playing in 1981 and has always missed it. He says that, during the time they lived together, Nikitina saw his guitars and photos of his band and asked him to play for her. “She kept bugging me about it. I told her that when we got married on Valentine’s Day, I would play for her.” To deliver on that promise, he and Nikitina’s former boss, Julie Peel, will hold a concert in Nikitina’s memory.

“In Memory of,” will be held 1-9 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 16 at the Utah Cultural Celebration Center, 1355 W. 3100 South in West Valley City. Proceeds will benefit Nikitina’s surviving children and other community services offering victim support. The public is invited to send photos to be included in a memory wall to honor those who have lost their lives to a violent crime. Featured will be the band Hot Sauce—a group Hernandez and other musicians recently assembled—as well as other live bands, cultural dancers, ethnic food, a citywide motorcycle ride, speakers and representatives from grief-support groups. A candlelight procession honoring victims will conclude the event.

“When this happened to me, for the first three months, I didn’t want to live. I was drunk every day,” Hernandez says. “I didn’t know about victim-support groups. They sought me out and helped me, and if it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t have survived."

Today, Hernandez is the link between Nikitina’s sister, her parents—who currently live in the Ukraine but plan to relocate to the United States—and her children. While the children now live with their father, Hernandez continues to see them at their soccer games and on outings. “When I visit the kids, it’s hard on me because I want to talk about Tanya, and the kids say they aren’t supposed to talk about her.”

On a recent roller-skating outing at Hollywood Connections, Nikitina’s son said he wanted to go home. “When I said, ‘We’ll go home in a minute,’ he said, ‘I want to go to our home.’” Hernandez drove the children back to the house he shared with Nikitina. The boy “went to his bedroom, put all his toys around him and read a book. I missed my home the way it used to be with the music on and Tanya dancing around the house.”

While Hernandez doesn’t know what lies ahead, he needs to be prepared for life after the Oct. 16 concert, when he predicts he will experience a big letdown. “Every day, when I wake up, I think about Tanya. I wake up in the middle of the night thinking about her. Every day, I miss her so much. I want to dream about her, and I can’t. I hope to be able to dream about her someday, and when I can, she will be alive again."



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