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After years of pain, an ending

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Justin Hansen, right, leaves the courtroom Thursday with his attorney, Daniel Snyder, after pleadng no contest to attempted murder and aggravated burglary in the 2008 beating of Brittani Marcell. (Greg Sorber, Albuquerque Journal)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The man accused of beating a teenage girl with a shovel inside her West Side home in 2008 pleaded no contest Thursday to attempted murder and aggravated burglary charges.

Justin Hansen, 34, faces up to 18 years in custody at sentencing, which is set for late July.

Brittani Marcell, then a 17-year-old Cibola High School senior, was so gravely injured that homicide detectives were sent to her West Side home to investigate.

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Comforted by family friend Lori Anne McBride, right, Alicia Marcell, left, cries at a plea hearing for Justin Hansen, the man accused of beating Marcell’s sister, Brittani, with a shovel in 2008. (Greg Sorber, Albuquerque Journal)

During Thursday’s hearing before Judge Cindy Leos, prosecutor David Waymire said that on Sept. 11, 2008, Marcell was attacked from behind as she returned home to meet her mother for lunch. When her mom arrived, Marcell was on the floor of the entryway, bloody and unconscious, and a man was standing over her with a shovel.

The assailant escaped through a kitchen window.

Marcell’s case shocked the community, but it went unsolved for years. And over those years, Marcell had to relearn to walk, talk and eat. She is deaf in one ear and blind in one eye. She has undergone 19 surgeries, her sister said, and has another next month.

Years before an arrest was made, prosecutors filed an indictment against a male DNA profile retrieved from blood found on the broken kitchen window.

In October 2016, Marcell began to remember a man she used to chat with at the mall.

Eventually, she remembered a name: Justin Hansen.

She reported the memory to APD detectives and when Hansen refused to offer a DNA sample, undercover detectives began to trail him. They collected a cup he discarded at a McDonald’s, and used the DNA taken from it to tie him to the crime scene.

Prosecutors went on to file another indictment in the case in 2017, this time naming Hansen.

And Waymire said that Marcell’s memories have continued to trickle in.

“She would testify that as of a few months ago, she does now recall the face of the attacker and that it was Justin Hansen,” he said.

Waymire said a witness interviewed by the state remembered that Hansen used to visit and flirt with Marcell at the Cottonwood Mall, where she worked at a sunglass store.

Hansen had been set for a 10-day trial at the end of the month, which was expected to receive national coverage.

His plea hearing came the day after the Court of Appeals announced that it would not consider whether certain charges in the case should be dismissed because the statute of limitations expired before Hansen was indicted by name.

Hansen said little during Thursday’s hearing, and answered most of the judge’s questions with a quiet “yes, your honor.” His family accompanied him, but declined to comment on the agreement.

Marcell’s sisters have attended every hearing in the case, and they said that Thursday’s hearing offered a long-awaited sense of relief.

“We knew in our hearts he did this when this came about and Brittani remembered his name, but he took responsibility today and that goes a long way, to say that, I did this,” said Alicia Marcell. “I think that’s where we start to have some closure and healing.”

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