The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Local News

December 4, 2013

Kansas attorney general mulls seeking death penalty for four killings

OSWEGO, Kan. — No decision has been made on whether to seek the death penalty for a 22-year-old man charged with capital murder in the deaths of a woman and her three children, an assistant attorney general said Wednesday after a court hearing.

David Cornell Bennett Jr. is charged with threatening, raping and killing 29-year-old Cami Umbarger, and killing her children, 4-year-old Averie Betts, 6-year-old Jaxon Betts and 9-year-old Hollie Betts. Their bodies were found Nov. 25 in their home in Parsons. Authorities have not said exactly how they died.

Assistant Attorney General Amy Hanley declined to comment further about the prosecution of Bennett, of Cherryvale. As an alternative to the capital murder charge, the attorney general’s office has filed four counts of premeditated, first-degree capital murder.

District Judge Robert Fleming read the charges against Bennett during a 10-minute hearing Wednesday and asked him whether he understood them. Bennett sat quietly, then nodded and said, “Yes, sir.” He occasionally shifted in his chair during the hearing and picked up a copy of the attorney general’s complaint against him but only glanced at it.

Bennett is being held at the Labette County Jail in Oswego on $5 million bail.

Kansas law allows a defendant to be charged with a single count of capital murder for multiple killings that are premeditated and occur “as part of the same transaction” or are connected by “a common scheme or course of conduct.” If the state seeks the death penalty, a jury can recommend either lethal injection or life in prison without parole as the punishment.

It could be weeks before the attorney general’s office announces its plans. Prosecutors have a week after a defendant enters a formal plea to a capital murder charge to file a written notice of their intent to seek the death penalty. In felony cases, a plea isn’t typically entered until after a preliminary hearing to determine whether a defendant is bound over for trial.

Fleming set a Jan. 17 hearing to discuss when to schedule Bennett’s preliminary hearing.

Don Brown, a spokesman for the attorney general’s office, declined to elaborate on Hanley’s comment, saying in an email, “Prosecutorial comments will be made in the venue of the court.”

The attorney general’s office filed a criminal complaint Tuesday against Bennett, after Fleming had appointed an attorney for Bennett. The judge appointed a new attorney, Ron Evans of the state’s death penalty defense unit. Evans declined to comment.

During the hearing, Bennett’s only question was about what would happen if he could make bail — after Fleming told him any release would be supervised with an order that he have no contact with the victims’ family.

“I would have to check in and all that stuff?” he said.

Fleming replied, “Right.”

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A Missouri Senate committee has endorsed a 1-cent sales tax increase to fund transportation projects. The proposed constitutional amendment passed the House earlier this month. If passed by the full Senate, the measure would head to the November ballot for voter approval. Would you vote in favor of it?

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