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Wichita Falls jury of 11 recommends prison in child death

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A jury composed of 11 people recommended prison for a Wichita Falls man Tuesday, Jan. 28 after a hardfought trial in the 30th District Court of the Wichita County Courthouse, according to an article in the Wednesday, Jan. 29 Wichita Falls Times Record News newspaper. Lead prosecutor John Gillespie successfully argued for a conviction for injury to a child and also continuous violence against the family last Friday.

Gillespie and fellow prosecutor Grace Pandithurai presented evidence against defendant Brent Allen Benefield, 32, which led to the conviction of the father and husband.

The jury heard punishment closing arguments from First Assistant District Attorney Gillespie and attorneys from the Wichita County Public Defender's Office Tuesday before returning with a recommendation of 10 years in the Texas penitentiary system for injury to a child and five years for continuous violence against the family.

Gillespie and Pandithurai produced witnesses and scientific evidence which led to the convictions in connection with the death of Benefield's 4-month old son, Lucas Benefield and abuse of his wife Sarah Price.

A unique aspect of the case was the illness of one juror and medical problems for a second juror which left only 11 jurors to determine punishment when an alternate was added.

Gillespie argued during punishment that the acts of violence alone supported the rendition of a maximum sentence of 20 years. The prosecutor further referred to all the experiences in life Lucas would be unable to experience such as birthdays and Christmas celebrations.

Gillespie further said that at a young age Lucas "ran out of tomorrows" because of the defendant's behavior.

Chief Public Defender James Rasmussen told the jury that since they found his client guilty of reckless injury to a child rather than knowing or intentional injury that this was a proper case in which to provide community supervision (previously called probation). Rasmussen said that the defendant was eligible for a probated sentence based on the fact he had not prior ciminal convictions before this trial.

Assistant Public Defender Brennon Brady also argued for probation, saying his client would be well-supervised if given that opportunity.

Brady also said on Channel 3 and Channel 6 the defense would appeal the jury's verdict and recommended sentence.

Judge Bob Brotherton sentenced the defendant to 10 years and 5 years in prison, following the jury's recommendation. Under the law, the two sentences must be served concurrently. Brotherton is presiding judge of the 30th District Court located in Wichita Falls.

Gillespie said today, Thursday, Jan. 30, "The defense called several paid witnesses who were exposed on the stand as testifying liars. One of the defense's paid witnesses changed his opinions about as often as he changed bow ties."

The First Assistant District Attorney further said, "There was overwhelming medical evidence of the defendant's guilt. The jury heard three weeks of testimony and saw clearly that the defendant was the one who shook his own baby to death."

Gillespie, who is a graduate of Texas A&M and Baylor Law School, also said, "I respect the jury's decision. They are the voice of the community. They worked very hard on this case to come up with a just verdict."

Gillespie also discussed the victim in the case, saying, "Baby Lucas's last moments were filled with violence from the hand of his father."

He then said, "At the age of 4 months old , baby Lucas ran out of tomorrows."

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