ST. GEORGE – A judge ruled Thursday that an attempted murder case from 2012 had enough evidence to move forward to trial.
After hearing testimony from officers with the Hurricane Police Department, 5th Distict Judge Eric Ludlow ruled prosecutors had established enough probable cause to have the case involving 34-year-old Craig Manwill Bennett bound over for trial.
Bennett is accused of attempting to kill a man in a trailer park in the community of Harrisburg on the night of Nov. 27, 2012. The victim in the case, described as a middle-aged man, was shot with a shotgun and ultimately taken by Life Flight in critical condition to Las Vegas for care.
Ed Flint, Bennett’s attorney, agreed there was enough evidence to move ahead, but said the evidence supported a second-degree charge of aggravated assault instead of a first-degree charge of attempted murder, which Bennett currently faces.
After hearing the testimony of the police officers, Flint also said there could be possible constitutional issues with the arrest.
Ludlow scheduled an arraignment hearing April 19.
The events that occurred on Nov. 27, 2012, were recounted in testimony by three Hurricane City Police officers.
Detective Troy Hall responded first on scene following a 911 call that informed police shots had been fired. When Hall drove into the trailer park in Harrisburg, he found two men hiding behind a trailer and heard someone yell, “Get out of there!”
The two men pointed him to where the chaos was unfolding.
Hall soon found a man standing in front of a trailer with an object in his hand that was later confirmed to be a shotgun. That man was Bennett, who had his back to the officer at the time. Hall, who had gotten out of his truck, had drawn his weapon and told Bennett to drop the gun and raise his hands, which he did.
Bennett was placed in handcuffs around this time and rambled non-stop, saying the man in the trailer – the shooting victim – was a bad man and a devil and that he had threatened to go after Bennett’s mother, Hall testified.
“He’s a serial killer and I shot him,” Bennett said, as recounted by Hall.
As other officers arrived to back up Hall and investigate the scene, Bennett was placed over by Hall’s truck and told to be quiet, although he continued rambling for about three or four minutes, Hall said. Bennett then complied and was eventually taken to the police station.
Flint asked Hall if Bennett had been made aware of his Miranda Rights at the time. Hall said he hadn’t.
“It was a very active scene, a very chaotic scene,” Hall said.
Officer Justin Gray testified next and said he also heard Bennett saying the man he shot inside the trailer was a bad man and a devil.
Gray found some blood by the outside of the victim’s trailer and then opened to the door to find more blood inside – along with the victim who was sitting on the floor.
“He had a pretty significant wound on the top of his head,” Gray said, and also noted the man had a wound on his right arm. He also said he noticed a revolver-type gun near the man inside the trailer.
The victim was ultimately loaded into a waiting Life Flight helicopter and flown to University Medical Center in Las Vegas in critical condition.
Detective Stacey Gubler was the last to testify. He interviewed Bennett at the police station, at which time he was told his Miranda Rights.
At the time, Gubler believed Bennett was under the influence of some substance, as he was disoriented, irregularly blinking his eyes and experiencing other types of facial twitching.
According to test results noted by Flint during the hearing, Bennett tested negative for potentially illegal or mind-alternating substances in relation to the arrest.
During the interview between Bennett and Gubler, Bennett didn’t remember what happened in Harrisburg, the detective said.
“I brought up statements he made at the scene and he couldn’t remember those,” Gubler said.
Gubler was able to interview the victim as he recovered in Las Vegas, and was able to put together the alleged sequence of events.
Bennett knew the man’s son and would sometimes get cigarettes from him. The night of the incident, Bennett went to the victim’s trailer looking for his son who wasn’t home. Worried by erratic behavior being exhibited by Bennett, the man called 911.
The man then heard noises outside – Bennett had returned and entered the trailer with a shotgun and held it at the man’s head at eye-level. The man was quick to shove the shotgun away just before the trigger was pulled. Shots fired resulted in injuries to the man’s head and right arm.
The man then retrieved a handgun, at which point Bennett got out of the trailer.
Shotgun pellets taken from the victim’s wounds were consistent with ammunition discharged from the shotgun, Gubler said.
Following the testimonies and the judge’s ruling to move the case forward, Flint said there were possible issues with Bennett’s arrest as it relates to when he was finally told his rights by police.
Bennett’s sanity – or lack thereof – at the time of the attack will also be an issue, Flint said. If he truly believed he was shooting at something that wasn’t human, a mental health defense may be likely.
Issues related to Bennett’s mental state have been consistent throughout the progression of the case. He was sent to the Utah State Hospital for evaluation and treatment twice since 2013.
In the most recent instance, Bennett was declared restored to competence by mental health officials at the State Hospital earlier this year and subsequently returned to Washington County.
Flint said his client is competent as long as he stays on required medications and continues to get treatment. He previously stated that his client has dealt with mental health-related issues for much of his life.
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