Con­victed mur­derer Ben­son re­quests new trial for the fourth time

The Covington News - - FRONT PAGE - AM­BER PITTMAN apittman@cov­

Orig­i­nally con­victed in 2009 of the mur­der and dis­mem­ber­ment of his one­time girl­friend 49-year-old Leslyan Wil­liams, Franklin El­liott Ben­son, 53, re­cently re­quested a new trial for the fourth time, once again cit­ing in­ef­fec­tive le­gal coun­sel.

His pre­vi­ous three mo­tions for a new trial have been de­nied, and the process of re­peat­edly deal­ing with such mo­tions is a frus­trat­ing and costly one for lo­cal court of- fi­cials.

District At­tor­ney Layla Zon said there is no cap on how many times a de­fen­dant can re­quest a new trial, and a New­ton County Clerk of Courts em­ployee said when a mo­tion for a new trial comes in to the of­fice, em­ploy­ees are re­quired to file them and then share the mo­tions with the judge, district at­tor­ney and the de­fen­dant’s at­tor- ney, if the de­fense at­tor­ney is on file.

The judge is es­sen­tially re­quired to hear ev­ery new mo­tion though judges do have dis­cre­tion on how many times they have to hear the same mo­tion.

Ben­son’s fourth mo­tion for a new trial, heard Nov. 29, ac­cuses Ben­son’s trial at­tor­neys of fail­ing to ob­ject to the par­tial court­room clo­sure dur­ing voir dire (the pre­lim­i­nary ex­am­i­na­tion of prospec­tive ju­rors).

Ac­cord­ing to law, to pre­vail on a claim of in­ef­fec­tive as­sis­tance of coun­cil, the de­fen­dant must show that coun­sel’s per­for­mance was de­fi­cient and that the de­fi­ciency prej­u­diced the de­fense, a claim that Chief As­sis­tant District At­tor­ney Anne Kurtz re­futed in her re­ply to Ben­son’s mo­tion, say­ing that Ben­son had failed to demon­strate any harm re­sult­ing from the par­tial court­room clo­sure.

Ben­son first re­quested a new trial in 2010, cit­ing in­ef­fec­tive as­sis­tance of coun­sel and in­ef­fi­ciency of ev­i­dence.

In a pre-trial hear­ing where he sought a new trial, Ben­son’s first at­tor­neys were ques­tioned by his new at­tor­ney about their de­fense tac­tics. One spe­cific is­sue was about a wit­ness who had de­clined to come to the first trial, a main­te­nance man at a ho­tel where the vic­tim’s car was found and where video sur­veil­lance of Ben­son drop­ping it off was taken. The judge ruled against the re­quest for a new trial, and in fa­vor of the state which has ar­gued that Ben­son’s ini­tial de­fense at- tor­neys did their job prop­erly.

Since then at­tor­neys for Ben­son have amended their re­quest for a new trial three more times. The sec­ond mo­tion cited the same rea­sons as the first, that there was in­suf­fi­cient ev­i­dence to con­vict him of the crimes he was ac­cused, his de­fense at­tor­neys failed to se­cure tes­ti­mony from a “key de­fense wit­ness” and that de­fense at­tor­neys failed to “raise al­ibi ev­i­dence cor­re­spond­ing to the time of death pre­sented by the state.” The judge ruled against this re­quest as well.

In the third re­quest for a new trial Ben­son’s at­tor­neys cited in­ef­fec­tive coun­sel once again, this time say­ing that friends and fam­ily of Ben­son were “im­prop­erly ex­cluded from se­lec­tion” of ju­rors. The judge ruled against this re­quest.

Each time, Ben­son has slightly amended his rea­sons for ask­ing for a new trial. New­ton County Su­pe­rior Court Judge Ho­race J. John­son, Jr. has not yet ruled on this lat­est mo­tion.

Dur­ing his first trial in 2009, a jury con­victed Ben­son of mur­der, con­ceal­ing the death of an­other and re­moval of body parts from scene of death or dis­mem­ber­ment, and Judge John­son sen­tenced him to life in prison plus 11 years.


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