Defendant Changes Mind About Plea – Accepts Mandatory Life Sentence

September 30, 2022 Criminal Defense, News & Announcements, Theft/Property Crimes, Violent Crimes

A defendant in Hillsborough County shocked the courtroom after telling the judge he wanted to change his mind about having a jury trial in his armed robbery case. James Hanson Jr. was accused of armed robbery, carjacking, kidnapping, and first-degree murder from an incident that happened in 2019.

We will provide information regarding the case’s details, what led to a mistrial in the courtroom, and the defendant changing his mind last minute to accept a mandatory life sentence.

What was the Case?

On August 6th, 2022, James Hanson Jr., 41, was arrested and charged with multiple criminal offenses after an attempted armed robbery. In his attempt to commit armed robbery, Hanson Jr. is accused of carjacking, kidnapping, and killing 68-year-old Mathew Korattiyil.

According to the report, Hanson Jr. had googled “banks near me” before setting out to rob a bank in Valrico, Florida. A receipt later found in his home showed that he purchased an Airsoft BB gun from a local Walmart—the weapon he brought with him to CenterState Bank.   

A surveillance video obtained by police shows Hanson Jr. walking up to the bank counter with his face covered. The suspect then proceeded to physically strike the bank employee in the face, grabbing rolls of change from the counter and then fleeing out the front doors.

The bank employee who was punched by Hanson Jr. followed the suspect and began to record him with his cell phone. In the employee’s video, Hanson Jr. is seen exiting the bank and approaching a car, forcing the driver—Korattiyil—into the passenger seat of his white Lexus SUV before driving away.

Authorities tracked the vehicle back to Hanson Jr.’s home, where he spotted them and once again fled in the stolen vehicle. The police were able to disable the car with a tire-shredding device, which caused the car to flip over.

Hanson Jr. managed to kick out the car’s sunroof and began running on foot. Eventually, Detective Robert Carr and several other deputies captured Hanson Jr., who finally confessed after trying to deny any involvement.

Hanson Jr. claimed to have robbed the bank for his sister, who had recently been evicted. When questioned about the carjacking victim, the defendant admitted to driving Korattiyil to the Sacred Heart Knanaya Catholic Community Center. The victim allegedly punched Hanson Jr. and attempted to run away. The defendant said he chased Korattiyil down and strangled him with his hands and then a belt.

According to the Hillsborough County Medical Examiner, Korattiyil died from strangulation. When Hanson Jr.’s house was later inspected by the detectives, they found the blue overalls, camouflage hat, black gloves, and belt that were involved in the crime spree.

Hanson Jr. was facing several charges, including carjacking, kidnapping, armed robbery, and first-degree murder. This was not Hanson Jr.’s first offense. He had been serving a life sentence for an armed robbery in 2003 but was let out after only serving 17 years due to a testimony deal in another case.

Hanson Jr. had only been out of prison for 35 days when he was arrested for the recent armed robbery.

Mistrial in Court

When the case was brought to trial, the panel of attorneys selected 12 jurors and an alternate. The alternate had to be dismissed after stressing that personal issues prevented them from being able to concentrate on the case. Then another juror admitted that her child’s father befriended Hanson a month prior to the armed robbery.

The juror claimed that she was not only aware of the details of the case, but that the father of her child had already been contacted by the police after they found text messages between him and Hanson Jr. from the day of the arrest. Since there were only 11 jurors left, the judge had to declare a mistrial.

Last Minute Plea Change

Hanson Jr. originally pleaded not guilty to the charges against him. However, once the court rushed to start the jury selection over again, Hanson Jr. admitted to his attorneys that he did not wish to go through the process again.

On Tuesday, September 20th, 2022, Hanson Jr. asked Hillsborough Circuit Judge Samantha Ward to allow him to change his mind and plead guilty to all seven charges against him. Ward questioned the defendant several times to ensure he was positive about making the decision.

“I understand,” Hanson Jr. replied. “It’s what I want to do.”

Since Hanson Jr. changed his mind to plead guilty to all charges, the judge sentenced him to a mandatory life sentence without parole.


After the change of heart, Korattiyil’s family was brought back into the courtroom to address the defendant. The victim’s son, Nelson Korattiyil, said even pleading guilty won’t make things right.

“Our pain will never really dissipate, even with what’s happening today,” his son said. “I’ve had two kids since you murdered him that he has not met.”

As the defendant was being ushered out of the courtroom, he requested to provide the victim’s family with an apology: “I’m sorry. I can’t bring him back and I can’t do nothing about it. I can’t bring him back and I apologize. And I apologize to you, Nelson. I’m sorry.”

Armed Robbery in Florida

Robbery is considered both a property crime and a violent crime. Under Florida Statute Section 812.13, robbery is defined as the taking of money or property which may be the subject of larceny from another person with the intent to deprive the owner of their money or property. Robbery must include an element of force, assault, violence, or fear.

felony include up to a $10,000 fine and up to 30 years in prison.

In order to prosecute a defendant for robbery, they must prove the following beyond reasonable doubt:

  • The defendant took the property or money from another person;
  • The defendant took said property or money to temporarily or permanently deprive the owner of their belongings;
  • During the attempt or completed robbery, the defendant used violence, force, assault, or instilling fear into the victim.

To find out more about robbery charges in Florida, read our page here.

Armed Robbery Penalties

The penalties for a robbery vary depending on the circumstances of the crime, and whether or not there was a weapon or firearm involved.

Low Violence Robbery

A third-degree felony punishable by up to 5 years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000.

Strong Arm Robbery without a Weapon

A second-degree felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.

Armed Robbery with a Weapon

A first-degree felony punishable by up to 30 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.

Armed Robbery with a Deadly Weapon

A first-degree felony punishable life in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.

Home Invasion Robbery with a Weapon

A first-degree felony punishable by up to 30 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.

Home Invasion Robbery with a Deadly Weapon

A first-degree felony punishable life in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.

Carjacking without a Weapon

A first-degree felony punishable by up to 30 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.

Carjacking with a Deadly Weapon

A first-degree felony punishable life in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.

Finding a Defense Attorney in Tallahassee, Florida

The state of Florida does not take theft or violent crimes lightly. Getting convicted of a theft or violent crime can result in harsh consequences—such as expensive penalties and extensive prison time. If you or a loved one have been accused of a crime, your top priority should be seeking out a skilled defense attorney in your area. Don Pumphrey and his team at Pumphrey Law Firm have represented clients across the state for various charges, and vow to stand by your side throughout the entire legal process. Call us today for a free consultation at (850) 681-7777 or leave an online message on our website.

Written by Karissa Key

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