WASHINGTON, Iowa (AP) — Jurors on Friday convicted a former Iowa public official of second-degree murder for shooting his longtime girlfriend while she was riding a lawn mower behind their home.

The jury returned its verdict after a weeklong trial in the case of Thomas Hansen, a former Iowa City Fire Department official and Johnson County emergency management director who once had a sterling reputation in law enforcement circles. He faces up to 50 years in prison.

Hansen acknowledged that he fired a single bullet from a handgun from his back porch in Riverside that struck and killed Sharon Gerot on May 1, 2011, after the two had been arguing. But he said he fired the shot only to frighten Gerot after she physically and verbally abused him, that day and for years before.

His attorney had asked jurors to convict Hansen, 72, of involuntary manslaughter, describing it as “an unlucky shot” that somehow managed to strike Gerot in the left temple from about 70 feet away, throwing her backward off the mower and killing her.

But prosecutors had argued that Hansen was guilty of first-degree murder because he deliberately grabbed his loaded gun from a storage bin and shot at Gerot knowing it could kill her. Hansen fired the shot out of anger after Gerot pushed him down during a fight, and then he told a neighbor not to try to save her because she was dead, they said.

The case was followed closely in eastern Iowa because Hansen was well-known and liked from his 38 years in public service. Hansen first rose through the ranks of the Iowa City fire department, eventually becoming the No. 2 official before he retired in 1996. He then worked as the emergency management director for Johnson County, helping the community respond to tornadoes, floods and other disasters before retiring in 2007. Hansen also was involved in the Catholic Church.

Friends and family members had packed the courtroom in Washington, often hugging Hansen during breaks. He has been jailed since the shooting.

(© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)


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