Karen Jane Campbell and Alisa Marie Beck
Serial Killings Trial Starts
Testimony has begun in the trial of a Mesa man accused of raping and killing two prostitutes and sexually assaulting two other women in attacks that he said stemmed from his rage about how much they were charging or his own sexual performance.
Trent Christopher Benson, 39, was charged with two counts of first-degree murder, and four counts each of kidnapping and sexual assault in crimes that occurred in Phoenix and Mesa between 2004 and 2007. If convicted, Benson could be sentenced to the death penalty.
Benson has confessed to the two murders and one of the rapes, claiming that in all three cases, he argued with prostitutes over payment and his performance. He denied any role in a fourth rape.
Prosecutor Kirsten Valenzuela said that DNA evidence linked Benson to all four attacks, something police had previously said.
Valenzuela and defense attorney Tim Agan detailed the attacks during their opening statements, much of the information coming from Benson's statements to Mesa police, The Arizona Republic on Wednesday reported (http://bit.ly/piL49e).
On Oct. 31, 2004, Benson told police that he picked up Alisa Marie Beck, a prostitute, after visiting a strip club and that he became angry when she complained about how long he took to have sex. Benson strangled her, slammed her face into the steering wheel, tore her genitals and then dumped her body.
A family of seven found her the next day, naked from the waist down, face-up and on the gravel. She was one day shy of turning 22.
It would take three years before police made an arrest in her murder — after another prostitute was strangled and dumped in the street and two other women were sexually assaulted. On Oct. 14, 2007, Karen Campbell — a 44-year-old prostitute — went to Benson's house to have sex with him. Benson said she wanted more money and that she became violent when he refused.
He told police that he blacked out and awoke to find her dead on his floor; he dumped her body nearby.
Benson also was accused in the kidnapping and rapes of two women. On the afternoon of Aug. 16, 2007, a 48-year-old woman was walking in Mesa when two men jumped out of a white car and put a chemical-soaked rag over her face.
She passed out, according to Valenzuela, and awoke to a man raping her while the second man filmed them. She reported seeing herself on large-format TVs as she was being raped. The two men were distracted by a sound in the house, and the woman grabbed her clothes and fled.
Benson denied any part in the incident, but his DNA was found on the woman's body. The second man was never identified, and some of the details the woman gave about her attacker did not match Benson.
The other sexual assault was on Nov. 4, 2007, when Benson admitted to snatching a 34-year-old homeless woman off the street in Phoenix, dragging her to his car, raping her and choking her until she lost consciousness. Police said Benson tore the woman's genitals and left her, but a taxi driver who saw her lying in the street called police and she survived.
Benson said the woman was a prostitute and that they had quarreled over the deal. Valenzuela said the woman was not a prostitute.
Police got a break in the case when yet another woman told them that an Asian male had followed her and tried to get her into his car. She said she recognized him as a regular at a Mesa bar.
When police went to the bar, they questioned Benson and put him under surveillance at the ice-and-water store he owned in Mesa. When he flicked a cigarette butt into the street, detectives picked it up and matched DNA to the four attacks.
Tim Agan, Benson's attorney, said that Benson was born in South Korea and was abandoned as an infant. He was adopted by a family in Minnesota and was about to flee there when he was arrested in May 2008.
Benson, Agan said, explained his history with prostitutes and his disdain for women in general. But he argued that the two fatal attacks to which Benson admitted were crimes in the heat of the moment — second-degree murders, not premeditated or felony first-degree murders.
And since the three attacks Benson admits committing took place during acts of prostitution, Agan said, they were consensual sex, not rapes and there was no forcible restraint necessary to the crimes of kidnapping.
The trial is expected to last until at least November.