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Copyright © 2017 Albuquerque Journal
For more than eight years, Brittani Marcell couldn’t remember much about the man who beat her with a shovel, nearly killing her, in her West Side home.
She was 17 years old at the time.
Then last October, she began to recall a man who used to visit her at the Cottonwood Mall sunglass store where she worked, according to court documents.
A name eventually became stuck in her mind – Justin Hansen.
The name was a huge development in a case that had been cold for years.
When detectives interviewed Hansen, now 33, he gave conflicting statements and refused to submit a DNA sample, the documents say.
So detectives got creative.
They set up a stakeout, picked up a McDonald’s cup he discarded and tested it for his DNA.
Authorities say it matched blood evidence collected at Brittani’s house in 2008, and on Wednesday, Hansen was arrested and charged with attempted murder, kidnapping with great bodily harm, aggravated battery and more.
Brittani’s older sisters showed up for Hansen’s scheduled court appearance Thursday in the hopes of seeing his face after Brittani, now 26, called them with the news. They were unable to, though, because the hearing was reset for this morning.
Alicia Marcell said the arrest has brought a deep sense of relief to her younger sister, who is on vacation on the East Coast. Brittani celebrated the victory with ice cream.
“She is elated,” Alicia Marcell said. “I think she knows this is a whole new trial that she’s going to have to deal with, but she’s enjoying her vacation right now and the relief that he’s not out there anymore.”
Police say that on Sept. 11, 2008, Brittani, then a senior at Cibola High School, had gone home to have lunch with her mother at their home in the 4000 block of Pasaje NW, near Golf Course and Westside NW. That’s when she was brutally attacked.
Brittani’s mother, Diane Marcell, interrupted the attack when she arrived home and found a man standing over her badly injured daughter. She said he armed himself with a knife from the kitchen, yelled at her and then ran out of the house.
Brittani was in a coma for weeks. She suffered multiple skull fractures, several cuts on her head and face as well as a broken left arm and wrist.
She spent years recovering and relearning how to speak, walk, eat and drink. She has undergone numerous surgeries, including the removal of a dime-size portion of her brain, and is still blind and deaf on her left side.
In the months and years that followed, police released descriptions of the attacker, asked for tips and created composite sketches from Brittani’s and Diane’s memories.
“America’s Most Wanted” featured the case in 2010.
But it wasn’t until October of last year that Brittani told detectives she was beginning to remember Hansen’s name and some of the events leading up to the attack.
It’s unclear from court documents why Hansen, then 24, would have beaten Brittani, and police didn’t provide any additional information Thursday.
These days, Hansen was living in Bosque Farms and had three young children, according to court documents. He filed for divorce a few months ago.
Detectives said they had been worried Hansen would flee if he found out he was about to be arrested, so they persuaded a judge to seal his arrest warrant at least until after his first court appearance, which was scheduled in the 2nd Judicial District Court this morning.
They said that although he didn’t have any felony charges or convictions, he had admitted to battery as a juvenile in 2000 and was the subject of a couple of domestic violence accusations, including a battery involving a pregnant girlfriend in 2004 and rape involving an ex-girlfriend in 2007.
Alicia Marcell said her family was shocked to learn the man accused of beating her sister so badly that she nearly died had remained living in the area and went on with his life after the attack, while Brittani suffered years of surgeries and rehab.
“She’s still going through medical struggles,” Alicia said. “The hope is maybe one day she’ll get her sight or hearing back, but she says ‘I just want to get my smile back.'”
Alicia Marcell said the attack changed not only Brittani’s life, but their mother’s and the rest of their siblings’ as well. She said some of the family moved to Texas so Brittani could go to a facility that specialized in traumatic brain injuries.
Meanwhile, Brittani adjusted her life around her medical issues and surgeries and was able to graduate from University of Texas at San Antonio last December with a degree in business.
“I wonder what kind of life she would have had if this hadn’t happened,” Alicia said. “She has a wonderful life, and she is rebuilding it from a really devastating place, but I don’t know that it is what she ever wanted her life to be.”