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Court affirms Hanson death sentence in Naperville-Aurora murders
By Christy Gutowski | Daily Herald Staff

Eric C. Hanson in his most recent prison mug shot.


The bodies of Jimmy Tsao, far left, Katherine "Kate" Hanson-Tsao, Mary Lynn Hanson and Terrance Hanson were discovered Sept. 29, 2005 in the Tsaos' Aurora home after the family members failed to show up for work.


Photo courtesy of Hanson family

Eric C. Hanson after his 2005 arrest.


Artist sketch of Eric C. Hanson's 2005 arraignment during his first court appearance in DuPage County.


L.D. Chukman

Eric C. Hanson in the DuPage County jail during a Jan. 4, 2008 Daily Herald interview.


Daily Herald file photo/Bev Horne

In this September 2001 photo, Jimmy Tsao poses with his new bride, Kate, center, along with her parents, Mary and Terrance Hanson. All four were found slain Sept. 29, 2005, in Aurora.


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Published: 6/24/2010 9:25 AM | Updated: 6/25/2010 8:07 AM

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The Illinois Supreme Court upheld the conviction and death sentence Thursday of a Naperville man who killed his parents, sister and her husband nearly five years ago.

In an unanimous decision, justices denied Eric C. Hanson's appeal and set a perfunctory Nov. 9 execution date. Hanson has a decade of appeals ahead of him before facing death by lethal injection, should the capital punishment moratorium be lifted.

"We were the ones who told him," said Karen Tom, a Wheaton woman who visits Hanson weekly to minister to the 33-year-old man she considers a son. "I took his hand as my husband read the Bible and told him he lost the appeal. He looked very sober. There was a tear in his eye. He did say he was preparing himself for that."

Hanson is the second-youngest of 16 men on Illinois' death row at Pontiac Correctional Center. A DuPage County jury convicted him in 2008 during a high-profile trial in Circuit Judge Robert Anderson's courtroom.

All death sentences are appealed directly to the state high court. Hanson argued the jury convicted him with circumstantial evidence during a trial riddled with reversible legal errors. His attorney cited nine issues, such as testimony from Hanson's older sister about an incriminating conversation she said she had with the slain sister weeks before the murders.

On Sept. 29, 2005, police discovered the bludgeoned bodies of Katherine "Kate" Hanson-Tsao, 31, along with her husband, Jimmy Tsao, 34, in their home in the White Eagle subdivision in Aurora.

Terrance Hanson, 57, and his wife, Mary, 55, also were found slain there. The elder couple were shot in their bed in their Naperville home, on Rock Spring Court, where Eric lived, then taken to Kate's house five miles away.

The defendant's other sibling, Jennifer Williams, who lived out of state, identified him as a suspect within an hour of the grisly discovery. She said Hanson threatened to kill their sister, Kate, six weeks earlier if she told their dad Eric stole more than $80,000 from the parents in a credit card scheme.

Prosecutors lacked a confession, both murder weapons and, despite two crime scenes with four bodies, a single hair, fiber, fingerprint or shoe print or DNA placing Hanson at either location. In fact, seven unidentified partial bloody shoe prints found at his sister's home were not traced back to Eric.

But the existence of a second crime scene in Naperville was crucial because Hanson placed himself in the home that night. He told jurors he was sleeping downstairs and didn't hear a disturbance, despite the killer's extensive cleaning of the crime scene. There were no signs of forced entry.

Police arrested Hanson after he returned from a one-day trip in Los Angeles to visit his ex-fiancee. Officers found Kate's $24,000 wedding ring and Jimmy's Rolex watch in Hanson's SUV. He explained he simply was returning the jewelry, but didn't get a chance before his trip.

But he couldn't explain another piece of evidence crucial to the prosecution. Hanson told jurors he had no idea how a rubber glove with his father's blood ended up in a zipped plastic bag, along with three other gloves, in his SUV.

The prosecution team - Robert Berlin, Michael Wolfe, Nancy Wolfe - argued the financial motive, timeline, GPS technology, and the other evidence such as the bloody glove and Hanson's multiple lies were overwhelming proof.

The jury - and now the Illinois Supreme Court - agreed.

Justices affirmed Hanson's murder conviction and death sentence, but they did vacate his aggravated kidnapping charges based on a perfunctory legal issue.

Eric Hanson maintains his innocence. His remaining family members haven't visited him in prison, Tom said.

"We are his family now," she said, "and we love him."