Gary Benn

Pierce County, Washington
Date of Alleged Crime:  February 10, 1988

Gary Michael Benn was sentenced to death for the shooting murders of his half-brother, Jack Dethlefsen, and his half-brother's friend, Michael Nelson. The shootings occurred in Dethlefsen's house. At trial Benn did not testify directly, but he made statements to a third party who testified to his version of events. According to this version, the killings were in self-defense. Benn's version was reasonably corroborated by the position of the bodies relative to the guns in the house. The killings were presumably not premeditated as Benn did not use his own gun, but had left it in his car. Dethlefsen had a reputation for violence.

The prosecution presented another version of events through the testimony of Roy Patrick, a jailhouse informant, who shared a cell with Benn as he was awaiting trial. According to Patrick, Benn had perpetrated two insurance scams together with Dethlefsen and Nelson involving the burglary and arson of Benn's trailer. Benn allegedly refused to share the proceeds of these scams with Dethlefsen and Nelson, and then killed them because they threatened to disclose the crimes to the police. Benn did report a burglary on Oct. 12, 1987 and had a fire on Dec. 11, 1987. There was some dubious evidence presented that these events occurred for insurance fraud purposes, but explanations for this evidence emerged after trial.

In 2002, the Federal Ninth District Court overturned Benn's conviction because of multiple Brady violations, which were failures by the prosecution to turn over exculpatory evidence. Patrick's identity was not disclosed to the defense until the day before trial. The prosecutor had told the defense that it could not disclose his identity because he was in the witness protection program. However, Patrick was never in such a program.

The prosecution failed to inform the defense of extensive evidence that would have severely undermined Patrick's credibility as a witness. One example: a week before trial, Patrick received $150 from detectives in advance payment for a nonexistent videotape that Patrick said would show Benn committing one of the Green River serial killings. The Court characterized Patrick as “completely unreliable, a liar for hire, [and] ready to perjure himself for whatever advantage he could squeeze out of the system.” The prosecution also failed to turn over a fire investigator's report that conclusively stated that the fire in Benn's trailer was accidental and could not have resulted from arson. Benn was scheduled for retrial in Sept. 2003.  [7/07]


Reference:  Benn v. Lambert

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