The murder trial of Gerald Allen Benjamins was supposed to take place on Monday, but instead the case effectively ended Wednesday afternoon when he plead guilty to second degree manslaughter and tampering with physical evidence.
Benjamins was accused of killing 36-year-old Brad Rigney in December of 2013 and was arrested in September of 2014 before being charged with murder.
With the plea deal, Benjamins will be sentenced to 15 years in jail – 10 years for the charge of second degree manslaughter and five years for the charge of tampering with physical evidence.
Benjamins entered his plea late Wednesday afternoon in Logan Circuit Court before Judge Tyler Gill, who listened to his account of what happened.
Before the proceedings began, however, Judge Gill disclosed that he had spoken with the victim’s mother earlier on Wednesday when she wanted his assurance that he would accept the 15-year jail sentence agreed upon by both the prosecution and the defense.
Commonwealth Attorney Gail Guiling said that the plea bargain was what Rigney’s mother wanted to resolve the case and keep it from going to trial.
“Mrs. Rigney told me that she didn’t think she would physically make it through a trial and that she wanted him to get 15 years,” Guiling said. “She has suffered a lot and we took that into consideration.”
Rigney was originally charged and indicted for the murder of Rigney, but at a trial, the jury would also be able to consider the lesser offense of second degree manslaughter. The only way to get the charge of tampering with physical evidence considered was through the plea deal.
“If we had went to trial a jury would have probably given him manslaughter second with just a 10 year sentence,” Guiling said. “By adding an additional count in the plea bargain, we were able to add five years to the sentence.”
In his allocution, Benjamins said he met Rigney at his home and later admitting to choking and pushing Rigney down before fleeing Rigney’s home. Benjamins said that he “heard a thump” as he left the house on Rhea Boulevard, but did not go back to check and see if Rigney was dead or alive.
Benjamins then admitted that got rid of the car he was driving by selling it to a junkyard because he knew it had been seen at Rigney’s home and he did not want to be identified because of it. This was the basis of the tampering with physical evidence charge.
Benjamins claimed that he did not intend to kill Rigney. At a trial, Guiling said it would have been extremely difficult to prove that Benjamins had a motive to murder Rigney – especially since he had no previous history of violent crimes on his record.
“That’s been a sticking point from the beginning,” Guiling said. “Even though we are not required to prove motive to get a conviction, juries want to hear one.”
William Maddox, the attorney for Benjamins, asked Judge Gill to waive the final sentencing hearing, but Gill denied that motion and set final sentencing for March 10.
“We are not going to be arguing for probation,” Maddox said.
The plea agreement wraps up a case that has been ongoing for over two years and Guiling said she was appreciative of all the hard work the Russellville Police Department put in to make sure the proper person was put in jail for the crime.
“I just want to commend detective (Kenneth) Edmunds and detective (Samantha) Reeser for all their hard work,” Guiling said. “They were tracking him down for a solid year. They deserve all the credit for this because without them, we would not have had Benjamins here to prosecute.”
Reeser said the RPD was glad to do its part in the case.
“We’re proud of the hard work and diligence that we put in and that of the Commonwealth Attorney to see that the proper person was charged,” she said.
To contact OJ Stapleton, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 270-726-8394.