State Supreme Court upholds homicide conviction

Hanson serving life for Chad McLean’s murder
By: 

Kevin Murphy, Times Herald Correspondent

The Wisconsin Supreme Court has upheld the 2013 homicide conviction of an Oconto Falls man for killing a Green Bay teenager found in the Pensaukee River in 1998 with four bullet wounds in the head.

The court unanimously rejected Peter J. Hanson’s argument that his constitutional rights were violated when jurors were told that Hanson’s estranged wife told an investigator, before she committed suicide, that her husband had confessed to the murder.

Hanson’s attorney, Ana Babcock, unsuccessfully argued that her client’s right to confront a witness at trial was violated as Kathy Hanson was deceased before the trial took place.

According to court documents:

The murder of Chad McLean, 19, was a cold case until Kathy Hanson told investigators in 2009 of her husband’s confession.

In 2012, Oconto County Circuit Judge Michael Judge held a John Doe hearing into McLean’s death. Peter Hanson, 58, who was being held on an unrelated matter, testified, made incriminating statements and was charged with McLean’s murder.

At trial, there was no physical evidence, murder weapon or motive connecting Hanson to the murder.

However, Hanson’s best friend, Kenneth Hudson, testified that about a month and a half after McLean’s body was found, Hanson told him that he had shot McLean and dumped his body in the river.

Barry O’Connor, a friend of Hanson, testified that in 2008 Hanson told him that about 10 years earlier he and Chuck Mlados had accidentally killed someone and dumped the body in a river. O’Connor also testified that Hanson told him he had confessed the murder to Kathy, but that she could not testify against him because she was now dead.

Jeremy Dey testified that while he and Hanson were in the Oconto County jail in 2013, Hanson told him that he had shot McLean and dumped his body in a river. Dey also said Hanson told him Kathy had given the police a statement about Hanson being involved in McLean’s murder.

Hanson did not testify at his trial. However, over the defense’s objection, Judge admitted Hanson’s John Doe testimony alleging that he and Mlados dropped McLean off at the Hi-Way Restaurant and Truck Stop, making them the last people to see McLean alive.

Restaurant surveillance footage on the night of the murder, Feb. 22, 1998, showed Hanson and Mlados buying beer at 9:53 p.m., However, McLean was not seen in any of the footage. At trial, six employees testified that they did not see anyone fitting McLean’s description at the restaurant that night.

McLean’s body was recovered from Pensaukee River a month later, near the Sandalwood Road bridge, about 1.3 miles downstream from Hanson’s house.

The jury ultimately found Hanson guilty of party to the crime of first-degree intentional homicide and he was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Mlados, of Oconto Falls, pleaded no contest to party to the crime of first-degree reckless endangerment and perjury, and was sentenced to 3½ years in prison.

An appeals court upheld Hanson’s conviction. It assumed without deciding that admitting Hanson’s John Doe statements about what Kathy Hanson had told an investigator was an error. However, it was a harmless error outweighed by the testimony of the state’s three other witnesses.

In deciding the case Wednesday, the state Supreme Court found that Hanson’s constitutional right to confront a witness was not violated. The court reasoned that Kathy Hanson’s statement to sheriff’s detective Darren Laskowski was not offered to prove that Hanson admitted to his estranged wife that he killed McLean. Instead, it was offered to show Hanson’s belief that Kathy would testify against him, had she been alive at the trial. Also, that is showed that Hanson was aware of his guilt.

“Taken together with Hanson’s statement that Kathy’s death was the ‘best thing that ever happened’ to him, the State claims there is an inference that Hanson was glad Kathy was dead so she could not testify that he killed McLean,” Justice Rebecca Dallet wrote in the 23-page opinion. “Detective Laskowski’s statement regarding what Kathy told him was thus offered to prove Hanson’s consciousness of guilt and was not hearsay, as it is irrelevant whether Kathy actually made a statement to Detective Laskowski.”

The court also rejected Hanson’s claim that his trial attorney was ineffective for not objecting to his John Doe testimony on grounds that he was not read all of the Miranda warning before he was questioned.

Hanson’s attorney admitted that John Doe witnesses are not required to be read Miranda warnings. Since the law doesn’t clearly require those witnesses to be Mirandized, the failure of Hanson’s trial attorney to object doesn’t amount to deficient performance.

Vince Biskupic was appointed special prosecutor for the case.