Justin Hansen, the man at the center of the case, is scheduled for sentencing in state District Court. He faces up to 18 years in prison after pleading no contest in an attack that nearly killed Brittani Marcell.
“This is a girl who was simply at school one day and went home to meet her mom for lunch. She wasn’t in the wrong place at the wrong time, necessarily,” Albuquerque homicide detective Jodi Gonterman said. “This could have happened to anyone.”
An arrest finally came nearly a decade later, thanks to resurfacing memories, a discarded McDonald’s cup and creative thinking by a detective and prosecutor.
When Gonterman was assigned to the case in 2013, Marcell could remember very little about that time in her life.
For a homicide detective who rarely meets her victims, this case was different. In an interview with the Journal Tuesday, Gonterman said that when the case hit a wall, she would try something new in hopes of moving the case forward.
“I told her, ‘I’m not going to retire until I solve this case, so I better solve it,'” Gonterman said.
When Marcell’s mother, Diane, who walked in on the attack, suggested hypnosis, a tactic APD had never before used, Gonterman got the plan approved. During and after the session, Marcell started to remember details and Gonterman asked her to tell her about each new memory.
“I said, ‘Anything that you remember, give it to me,'” Gonterman said. “‘Nothing is too small. Nothing is not important.'”
Marcell would throw out names – a total of nine in the end – and Gonterman would chase them. And in the summer of 2016, she remembered a new one: Justin Hansen, a man who used to chat with her when she worked selling sunglasses at Cottonwood Mall.
And around the same time, Gonterman was pursuing use of a new technology that would formulate an image of the suspect using the DNA sample recovered from a spot of blood found on a broken window in Marcell’s home.
“When I got that back, which was months later, I was like, ‘Oh my God,'” she said. “This fits Justin Hansen.”
At that point, Gonterman knew she needed a DNA sample, which Hansen refused to provide. She and David Waymire, the prosecutor handling the case, searched for a legal way to obtain one. They learned they could retrieve and test a cup or a fork left behind at a restaurant to see if it matched the profile recovered from the crime scene. So undercover detectives tracked Hansen to a McDonald’s and watched him place his trash atop a full garbage can.
“The detective walked right behind him with a glove and removed the cup and put it in an evidence bag,” she said.
A DNA test later confirmed that Hansen was a match. In April, Hansen, 34, pleaded no contest to aggravated burglary and attempted murder.
“Over the years, we meet the families and, you know, we build a relationship,” she said. “And so when it was finally a match, I mean I was overwhelmed with emotion.”