Death and Dismay
By Alex Distefano
On December 19, a Riverside County jury opted to put a man to death, for the 2001 murder of his own two-month-old baby girl, Montana. The little girl was killed by her father, 39-year-old Jason Michael Hann, while the two, along with the baby’s mother, Krissy Werntz, were staying in the IE area. “We believe they were only here for a few months at the time Montana was murdered,” said Riverside County DA spokesman John Hall. “It was likely six months or less.” News reports claim that Hann and his girlfriend Werntz lived a nomadic lifestyle and did not have a permanent residence. Hall said that records indicate that Hann and Werntz did temp work, through a local agency at the time, with Werntz working more than Hann.
According to news reports, the remains of the baby were sealed in a bag and kept in an airtight plastic container. The container was found in a storage unit, in the state of Arkansas, in early 2002. Hann and Werntz rented the shed, but they fled, when they could no longer afford to pay for rent.
The couple was arrested in April 2002, while staying at a motel in Portland, Maine. Just a day after the arrests, police also discovered the body of another one of the couple’s children in a storage unit in Arizona, this time an infant boy. Much like the little girl’s body, the boy’s remains were also wrapped, and sealed tight in a plastic container. According to police, the boy was murdered in 1999, in the state of Vermont.
Police and news reports indicate that both children died of blunt force trauma. In the case of the little girl, killed in Desert Hot Springs, prosecutors say that Hann brutally beat the little girl, even using an object to smash her skull, which led to her death.
Hall said that while the details of these crimes are ghastly and unfathomable, it gets worse. At the time of their arrests, police also found evidence that the couple was abusing their one-month-old son at the time. The boy was taken into police custody, with severe lacerations, broken ribs and retinal hemorrhaging.
Hall told the Weekly that is unclear whether or not drugs or alcohol directly played a role in these inhuman, vicious killings. “Hann admitted to psychologists having a history of drug use,” Hall said. “But, no details as to whether or not he was using drugs at the time of Montana’s murder came out in court during the trial.”
Hann was convicted of second-degree murder, in the state of Vermont in 2006, and sentenced to 27 to 30 years in prison. “His being convicted of another murder gave our office the ability to pursue the death penalty in this case,” said Hall. “Under California law, the decision to seek death is made solely by the elected District Attorney, so in this matter, D.A. Paul Zellerbach made the decision to seek the death penalty.”
But, why did it take so long for Hann to be extradited back to California to face charges for the murder of his baby daughter? “Part of the delay in bringing Hann to justice here in Riverside County was because of his murder case in Vermont,” Hall told the Weekly. “That case went first, because the murder there took place in 1999, and so the prosecution and subsequent sentence in that case came before we could bring him back here for our murder trial. He was convicted in 2006, and we had him extradited here in 2009, so we were able to get the trial before a jury in less than five years which is actually a relatively short amount of time—especially for a death penalty case.”
Hall said that Werntz is also being charged and tried a codefendant in the murders, but her trial is being delayed, due to issues with her attorneys. She has a pre trial court date on February 10, 2014, while Hann will be formally sentenced to the death penalty on February 21, 2014.