Mary Gansman

Mary Gansman enters the courtroom Wednesday to hear her sentence for the December 2016 murder of Steve Halonen. 

A 49-year-old Fairbanks woman was sentenced Wednesday to serve 20 years in prison for the shooting death of her boyfriend Steve Halonen three years ago.

Mary Edna Gansman shot Halonen five times in the head and neck as he sat in a chair at his west Fairbanks home the night of the Dec. 9, 2016. Gansman then called Halonen’s daughter in Minnesota and confessed to the killing, but told responding Alaska State Troopers that she shot him in self-defense. She later claimed that Halonen, 69, committed suicide.

Gansman was charged with one count of first-degree and two counts of second-degree murder. She pleaded guilty to one count of second-degree murder after accepting a plea deal with the state in June.

Under the terms of the agreement, both the state and Gansman’s public defender agreed she would be sentenced to serve 20 years and at least 20 years of additional suspended time, with the judge given leeway to increase the amount of suspended time to 79 years if he felt it was merited.

At the culmination of a two day sentencing hearing that included emotional victim impact statements from Halonen’s daughters, Superior Court Judge Paul Lyle sentenced Gansman to 50 years with 30 suspended. In addition, Gansman will be on probation for 10 years after her release and must undergo substance abuse assessment and a mental health assessment. 

When explaining his reasoning in delivering Gansman’s sentence, Lyle said that her alcohol addiction and possible mental health issues played a large factor. Gansman had previously described herself as a “raging alcoholic who moved to Alaska to drink herself to death,” had a long history of blackouts, said she did not recall being sober since moving to Alaska, and had also been diagnosed with PTSD with dissociative symptoms, anxiety, depression and panic attacks.

Lyle recommended that Gansman be allowed to continue her incarceration at Hiland Mountain Correctional Center in Eagle River so she could complete an intensive alcohol treatment program she’s currently enrolled in. 

“Gansman’s alcohol addiction is severe, by her own statement. If she were left untreated for mental health issues and alcohol addiction, if mental health issues exist, she is dangerous. That is, she is likely to reoffend,” Lyle said.

Gansman’s sentencing hearing began Tuesday afternoon with a review of the presentence report and victim impact statements from Halonen’s daughters. Gansman’s public defender, Jonathan Biderman, objected to the presentence report writer’s statement that Gansman’s actions had “brutally robbed” Halonen’s family of his presence, saying it was “inflammatory” and might prejudice future parole board decisions. Lyle disagreed.

“Given the description of the murder, and the injury, with five shots to the head and neck ... the word brutal is accurate and not inflammatory,” Lyle said Tuesday.

Halonen’s daughter, Jenna Halonen, asked that she be allowed to sit where she could look Gansman in the eye as she gave her victim impact statement. Speaking extemporaneously and sometimes with great anger, Jenna Halonen stared straight at Gansman and delivered a blistering denouncement of her actions.

“You took a man from me that was everything. He had a huge heart, and you know that,” Jenna Halonen said. “The man that I just described, you murdered. And you have to remember that in your head, and you say you don’t but that’s bull, because the way you talked to me on the phone that night was so creepy. And you were calm as can be.”

Jenna Halonen ended her statement Tuesday by telling Gansman that she deserved a long sentence.

“Every day you have to sit back there is well deserved. I just hope you rot in jail. You deserve everything that comes right on up to you.”

After Gansman’s sentencing Wednesday, Jenna Halonen said she was satisfied with Lyle’s decision and felt a small sense of closure.

“She got the 20, and then she’s going to have the 30, so if she stirs up at all, then she’s sent back where she belongs. I wish she really does feel just a sliver of our pain. I think she did yesterday,” Jenna Halonen said. “I hope that she can someday be human, but I don’t know if that’s even possible for her. I’m glad the judge really did see that she’s a danger to society and the public in general.”

Factoring in the three years Gansman has spent in prison since her arrest and the automatic one-third reduction of her sentence granted by the Department of Corrections for good behavior, Gansman will be eligible for parole in mid-April of 2030, according to Lyle.

Contact staff writer Dorothy Chomicz at 459-7582. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMcrime.