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Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Trent Benson Case

This morning I sat in on opening arguments for the kidnapping-rape-homicide trial of Trent Benson. I sat next to Michael Kiefer of the Arizona Republic, who talked me into going in the first place. A special draw was watching defense attorney Tim Agan work. Agan was one of the defense attorneys for serial killer Dale Hausner, who is the subject of my book, A SUDDEN SHOT. I thought he had some tough work cut out for him when he got assigned Hausner. But along comes Benson. Now that one's a doozy to defend.
Tim Agan, left, during the trial of Dale Hausner (center)
Copyright Camille Kimball
Upon his arrest for the ligature strangulation deaths, sexual assaults and kidnappings of several women (some survived), Benson told police he had, in fact, done most of the crimes. The way he explained himself was in the rather matter of fact vein that the murders and assaults basically couldn't be avoided considering the circumstances. These circumstances usually had to do with frustration during allegedly consensual sex. Oh, but one of the crimes, involving one woman that escaped during the middle of the assault, he insisted he did not commit at all.

Benson paved the way for the prosecutor by his immediate and detailed confessions, but where his confessions failed, he kept up his loyalty to Team Prosecution by leaving some DNA evidence on all of the women. And the composite police sketch produced by descriptions from one of the survivors looks exactly like Trent in the most remarkable sketch-to-suspect match I personally have ever seen.

After hearing the prosecutor lay out her case in her opening, I wondered what was left for Tim Agan to work with.

Well, with his daughter watching from the gallery (as she had done from time to time in the Hausner trial), Agan showed that he is a veteran. He broke down each crime into its components and found the weak link, such as it might be. For instance, as distasteful as this may sound, he pointed out it may not be possible to determine if certain acts were committed against the women while they were unconscious (sexual assault) or if they had already died while Benson was acting out his vicious little what shall I call it, ritual? Agan's point was you cannot "assault" a corpse. Benson is not charged with abusing a corpse, he's charged with sexual assault. I had to grudgingly admire the inventiveness of Agan's strategy. If forensic evidence is hazy on this point, he might just win a few rounds.

But he won't win all of them. Benson's crimes are despicable and disgusting and locked in with too much evidence, both forensic and eyewitness, and taped confessions. Just to put a more chilling twist to the whole tragic saga, Benson went home after one or more of these incidents to get his little kid tucked into bed (he had sole custody).

Benson has a remarkable back story. Adopted as a young child from South Korea, he was raised in a tiny town in Minnesota by parents who, by all accounts including his own, are wonderful. So wonderful, they are standing by him even through this. I sat behind them while they stoically listened to the most graphic and ugly personal details about their son, who apparently began patronizing prostitutes in his college years in Minneapolis and began killing them in his 30s in Phoenix.

I can't imagine how painful and repugnant the details of the crimes were to the senior Bensons, people whose compassion and tenderness were great enough to reach all the way to the opposite side of the world where they saw a little boy who needed them. These details were way too painful and repugnant for me, a professional crime writer and veteran journalist. We all have a place where we draw the line and this is where I draw mine. I won't be going back into this courtroom. That isn't to say it isn't a compelling case and it's important to keep our justice system out in the open. It's just I won't be the one on the hard bench for this one. I'll leave this one to Michael Kiefer. If you have an interest in this case, I recommend following Kiefer's byline at the Arizona Republic.

Wish I had a better picture of Michael. Here he is caught in the background at the A SUDDEN SHOT viewing party for the airing of Wicked Attraction (Shoot to Thrill).

Reporter Michael Kiefer (background). Serial Killer survivor Paul Patrick and his rescuer, Saul Guerrero (foreground)
Copyright Camille Kimball


  1. Nobody can imagine how painful this is for his family, especially his parents! He grew up in a wonderful home with a loving family. I understand why people are outraged and why they say the things they say, but I want all of them to know that this is not the person I knew growing up. He is my cousin and when we were together we were inseparable. He was so kind, thoughtful and full of love. When I heard about his arrest I thought it had to be a huge case of mistaken identity. I still don't feel like this is real although I know it is. Our family will stand beside him, not because we condone what he did but because we know the other side of him. The person we have all loved for so long!

  2. Dear Anonymous,

    Thank you so much for visiting.

    Sitting behind your aunt and uncle in the benches, I could not fathom what they were going through. The undisputed details in court were quite ghastly, yet the Bensons were very stoic.

    Your comment here and their acknowledged positive role in his life has me thinking about the polarity of humankind. While Trent may have had a tough beginning in Korea, it seems no greater river of human kindness could have flowed over him than he soon found in the Minnesota home of the Benson family. And yet, he chose what can only be described as an evil path.

    I am very sorry he has suddenly brought such a lifetime of sorrow and turmoil to all of you. I admire the loyalty, fortitude and truly remarkable spirit of loving generosity exhibited by your family. You all did not deserve this.