The troubled son of esteemed Pepperdine University President Andrew K. Benton will serve two years in prison, says the L.A. County District Attorney's Office, for threatening his father at the family's on-campus home and "possession of a firearm by a narcotic addict."
Chris Benton, 27, allegedly brought the stolen gun onto Pepperdine's otherwise pristine and tranquil Malibu campus, discarding it on a hillside the day the sheriff came for him. That whole August 23 spectacle prompted some student outrage over Andrew Benton's continued presidency on the website for campus newspaper The Graphic:
"After the tragedies of Virginia Tech and Oikos University, I am horrified to think what could have occurred," wrote commenter Nick Berg. "That we've gotten to this point and that Christopher Benton was even allowed on campus is really unacceptable given his connection to the Katie Wilkins case."
Indeed: The younger Benton (and the elder, by association) will always have 25-year-old Katie Wilkins' death by heroin overdose hanging over him, as long as he refuses to be interviewed by sheriff's homicide investigators in that case.
Ever since Wilkins was found lifeless in her parents' Malibu garage on April 28, her pants pulled down and syringe marks in her right arm -- the same arm she wrote with -- Sheriff's Detectives Brian Schoonmaker and Tim O'Quinn have been itching to interview Benton, who they're quite positive was hanging out with Wilkins that night. Surveillance footage from a nearby McDonald's along the PCH shows them meeting up around 8:30 p.m. on Friday, and his thumb print was found in her parents' garage. By Saturday night, the young design-school graduate was discovered dead -- her BMW missing and the family dog shut out of the house.
Someone was clearly at her side when she took the fatal dose of heroin, and detectives believe that someone to be Benton.
But his latest charges -- all felonies -- have nothing to do with the Wilkins case. Here they are, according to Deputy District Attorney Rena Durrant:
- Criminal threats to his father.
- Criminal threats to his mother.
- Grand theft of a firearm.
- Possession of a firearm by a narcotic addict.
- Possession of ammunition by a narcotic addict.
Pepperdine spokesman Jerry Derloshen previously told L.A. Weekly that the threats were "serious," and credible enough that family members/law enforcement thought he might go through with them. Deputy D.A. Durrant adds today that to get charges as harsh as Benton's, "you basically need to threaten to commit a crime that would result in death or great bodily injury."
The threats were allegedly made during a family argument at the Bentons' university home, which boasts a fantastic view of the Pacific.
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Durrant says 27-year-old Benton pleaded "no contest" to threatening his father and possessing a firearm, and has agreed to spend two years in state prison for his crimes. However, the remaining charges -- threatening his mother, stealing a firearm and possessing ammunition -- were all dropped as part of his plea deal.
Although we haven't been able to get a hold of Detectives Schoonmaker and O'Quinn to ask how his arrest (and now, his status as long-term inmate) might progress the Wilkins death investigation, the Daily Beast recently reported that on the morning after Benton's capture, one of the detectives "visited Benton in jail ... and brought Wilkins's parents with him."
From the Beast:
O'Quinn says that Benton has been "schooled well by his attorney. He stayed off the subject of the drugs, and Katherine's (Katie's) car, which we believe he took when he fled the scene. He did apologize to the dad (Rob Wilkins), generally, for what happened that night and said his intent was never to hurt Katherine. But he didn't say much."
Said attorney -- Woodland Hills hotshot Ronald J. Lewis -- was contracted by the wealthy Benton family directly after Wilkins turned up dead. He advised the suspicious university son not to speak with investigators, a move that did help him avoid admitting guilt but left Wilkins' family in a state of emotional upheaval.
Now, hypocritically, the attorney tells the Beast that Detective O'Quinn's little jail visit was a "sleazy" tactic:
"I can't comment specifically on this case, but I will say that it was bizarre and sneaky that a sheriff's detective took the girl's parents with them to do a jailhouse interview with my client. It's like subterfuge. Why do that? They know he is represented by a lawyer. But I wasn't even called. This boy, Christopher Benton, has a horrific heroin addiction. I would not wish that on my worst enemy. I've seen people ripped up by this--people under this addiction aren't human any more. The Benton and Wilkins families have both been visited by this devil, both have suffered the worst tragedies. Heroin addiction is the most evil addiction you can have. Chris is what you see in the papers--he is a very ill young man. Both families have been hurt by a common cause, which is heroin addiction, and it knows no boundaries on economics. It can affect families like the Wilkinses and the Bentons or a kid from South Central. To bring in the family for this secret interview, which they didn't even tell me about, is a questionable-at-best move."
But it was Benton and his lawyer who took this case rogue, when they made the controversial decision to keep Wilkins' family in the dark. Even when it was so obvious that the young man knew what had happened to her -- and that he had perhaps even administered his friend her final dose.
Whether or not it was Benton's "intent to hurt Katherine," his participation in her OD, and/or his failure to call 911, could possibly merit "involuntary manslaughter" charges, O'Quinn previously told the Weekly.
But for now, because the detective doesn't believe he has enough evidence to incriminate Benton, the Sheriff's Department will have to settle for two years in prison on an unrelated crime.
One month ago, an anonymous L.A. Weekly commenter wrote: "In my teenage years I witnessed Chris Benton sell, and administer drugs and take them openly with groups of friends, in one particular case AT his parent's house ON the Pepperdine campus. It is clear that Andy Benton has never had a role as a real "parent" in Chris' life... . His downward spiral began years ago and it will continue until he is behind bars."
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But in a statement to campus paper The Graphic before his son allegedly threatened to kill him last month, President Benton prayed that Chris was on the road to recovery:
"We love our son and, perhaps, we love him even more as a consequence of the many challenges he has faced in his life. He has made a number of harmful decisions, especially those emerging from experience with drugs and poor choices in friends. We don't know exactly how we arrived at this point, but we are a family and we will work through it. We hope this present situation is the beginning of a new path, and we pray fervently to that end."
An unhappy ending, all around.