- Associated Press - Sunday, March 30, 2014

TOMS RIVER, N.J. (AP) - A southern New Jersey man has been sentenced to 20 years in prison for trying to kill a woman at a New Year’s Eve party because she had previously rebuffed his romantic advances.

But the Asbury Park Press (https://on.app.com/1gQcpRG) reports that Robert Hankins maintained his innocence during his sentencing on Friday. The 65-year-old Toms River man was convicted in February on attempted murder and weapons charges by an Ocean County jury that deliberated for just five minutes before returning its verdict.

The charges stem from a 2011 attack that occurred at a crowded party in Lakewood.

Witnesses at the trial testified that Hankins put the 58-year-old victim in a chokehold and slashed her neck. He then took the same knife and slit his own throat.

The victim, a Manchester Township resident who was a bartender at the American Legion Post where the party was held, nearly died from her injuries. Prosecutors say she has since recovered from her injuries, but endures nightmares and can no longer work because she suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Prosecutors said the woman had sent a letter to post officials several weeks before the attack occurred, claiming Hankins had been threatening her and that he frightened her.

Hankins, however, told the judge on Friday that he was framed with a “planted” knife.

“I’ve been convicted of a crime that I know I did not commit,” he said. “I really am sorry that anyone got hurt. I don’t know who, what, when or where.”

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