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Benbow verdict: guilty on all counts

    Bulloch County Superior Court Judge John R. Turner sentenced Marcus Maurice Benbow, 41, Waycross, to five life sentences plus 130 years Friday for the murder of one man, the shooting of two other victims and related charges after a jury found Benbow guilty on all counts.
    According to witness testimony, Benbow and three other suspects, one of whom has pled guilty, came to Statesboro to buy drugs and ended up invading an Orange Street home almost a year ago, shooting up the apartment where several people gambled, killing one and injuring two others.
    Benbow, one of four suspects in the murder of Corey Oneil Walker and the aggravated assault and armed robbery of Chalandria McClouden, James Williams and several others, pled not guilty and sought a jury  trial. The trial began Wednesday and culminated Friday after jurors deliberated less than an hour and a half.
    They found Benbow guilty of 19 counts - malice murder, felony murder, burglary, four counts of armed robbery, six counts of aggravated assault, six counts of false imprisonment, and two counts of possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony.
    For sentencing purposes, Ogeechee Judicial Circuit Assistant District Attorney Daphne Jarriel asked Turner that the murder counts be merged, and that one aggravated assault count regarding Walker should also merge with the murder counts.
    Jarriel also asked the court to sentence Benbow to the maximum penalties, as he is a recividist (repeat offender with multiple prior convictions).
    Stephen Yekel, Benbow's public defense attorney, asked Turner for leniency considering Benbow's age.
    One life sentence would be sufficient, he said, since Benbow would be in his 70;s before being eligible for parole. "Mr. Benbow will more than likely die in prison," he said.
    Turner tweaked the sentence a bit, but still sentenced Benbow to the following: a life sentence for murder; 20 years to serve consecutively for burglary; four life sentences to run consecutively for the armed robbery charges; 20 years to serve consecutively for each of five aggravated assault charges; 10 years to serve for each of five counts of false imprisonment (to run concurrent with other sentences) and five years to serve consecutively for each of two possession of firearm during the commission of a felony charges.
    Turner asked Benbow if he understood his sentences and conviction.
    "No, I don't, but I'm accepting it," said Benbow, who remained silent and stoic during the three-day trial. He did not testify during the trial. "But I'm gonna keep fighting it."
    Turner told him he could appeal the conviction and had 30 days in which to do so.
    
 Defense witnesses testify
    Benbow's brother Allen Benbow testified Friday, claiming Maurice Benbow lived with him and was at home on Oct. 14, 2006, when the shooting incident that killed Walker and severely wounded McClouden and Williams occurred.
    Witnesses for the prosecution testified Wednesday and Thursday, telling a tale of fear and violence as they described the incident in detail. Kendall Worthy, a suspect who pled guilty to charges earlier this year, testified how suspect Frederico Mikell planned the trip as a drug-buying venture, making calls seeking drugs, and how Mikell told Walker he, Worthy, Benbow and Brian Hughley had $3,500 to spend.
    Worthy told jurors Benbow had a .22 revolver and Mikell had an AK-47, and described how, after Walker told Mikell he didn't have that much drugs to sell, the group returned and invaded the home. Mikell dropped the assault rifle and fled, but Worthy told how he picked the AK-47 up and opened fire, "backing Benbow up." Benbow was struggling with James Williams, who answered the door and grabbed the .22 by the barrel, he said.
    The attack left James Williams with three gunshot wounds to his knees, McClouden with multiple gunshot wounds to her back and legs, and Walker with at least two gunshot wounds, which led to his death.
    Worthy said Benbow was angry over not making a drug purchase and said "I didn't come all this way for nothing" before they returned to the house. He also said Benbow scooped up money from the floor of the house on Orange Street, where several victims had been gambling.
    But Allen Benbow and his girlfriend, Deborah Toema, each testified that Marcus Benbow was in Waycross that night, fighting with his ex-wife in the next room, and drinking beer and talking about football with his brother.
    Allen Benbow told Yekel he would not lie for his brother, but when Jarriel asked him  why he told a Waycross Police officer he did not know where Marcus Benbow was, he said he did so because he knew his brother was wanted for murder.
    Bulloch County Jail employee Sgt. Nicholas Brock testified that Benbow gave a different address as his home address than the one where Allen Benbow lives.
    
    Closing arguments
   Ogeechee Judicial Circuit Assistant District Attorney Barclay Black, who assisted in the prosecution, asked jurors to consider testimony and evidence heard in the trial, including statements from witnesses he accused Yekel "spent hours attacking.
    "In the words of the defendant himself, when he forced his way in on Mr. Williams, "You know what it is,'" he said, referring to the trial.
    But Yekel maintained Marcus Benbow was not even in Statesboro the night of the shooting. "This is a serious case ... but flat and simple, Marcus Benbow was not present," he said.
    He challenged forensic evidence and said while the prosecution claimed the .22 revolver Benbow allegedly used was shot or damaged, coming apart and leaving behind pieces of the gun, Benbow's hands were not injured.
    He also stated that Worthy's testimony was influenced by hopes he would receive a lighter sentence. Worthy, expected to testify in the trials of Frederico Mikell and Bryan Hughley, has not been sentenced.
    McClouden shook her head silently as Yekel said her testimony had been "tainted" by actions by the prosecutors and by media coverage.
    Jarriel questioned why Allen Benbow and Toema waited 11 months until the trial to come forward with information about Marcus Benbow being in Waycross the night of the murder. She pointed out that Waycross Police Det. Larry Hill had spoken with Allen Benbow about the case, and asked why Allen Benbow never mentioned the alibi then.
    "I think that's very strong evidence Allen Benbow should not be believed," she said.
    Turner asked everyone in the courtroom not refrain from emotional reaction as the verdict and sentences were read, but several members of the victims' families, as well as some of the victims, smiled broadly and wiped their eyes as the verdict was announced.
    After the trial, McClouden, speaking softly due to lung injuries she said limit her breathing and volume, said "You can say I danced all the way out the courtroom."

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