Bench v. State

Decision Date04 October 2018
Docket NumberCase Number: D-2015-462
Citation431 P.3d 929
Parties Miles Sterling BENCH, Appellant v. The STATE of Oklahoma, Appellee.
CourtUnited States State Court of Criminal Appeals of Oklahoma. Court of Criminal Appeals of Oklahoma


¶1 Appellant, Miles Sterling Bench, was tried by jury and convicted of First Degree Murder ( 21 O.S.2011, § 701.7(A) ) in the District Court of Stephens County, Case Number CF-2012-172. The jury found the presence of two aggravating circumstances: 1) the murder was especially heinous, atrocious, or cruel, and 2) the defendant posed a continuing threat to society, and set punishment as death. The trial court formally sentenced Appellant in accordance with the jury's verdict.

Appellant now appeals his conviction and sentence.1


¶2 Appellant began working at the Teepee Totem convenience store in the town of Velma, Stephens County in May of 2012. He was twenty-one years old. Appellant lived outside of town with his grandparents. His cousin, Clayton Jenson, regularly drove him to work.

¶3 After three weeks of training, Appellant began to close the store by himself. On June 6th, Jenson drove Appellant to work. They visited for 2 hours beforehand and discussed Appellant's plan to go to California so Appellant could be a mixed martial arts ("MMA") fighter. Jenson dropped Appellant off shortly before 2:00 p.m. Other than a sore throat, Appellant seemed absolutely normal to Jenson that day.

¶4 Sixteen-year-old Braylee Henry drove into Velma around 7:30 p.m. to get an item from the grocery store. After completing this task, Henry went into the Teepee Totem to get some candy and a soda fountain drink. Through Appellant's admissions to his psychological expert, we know that Appellant attacked Henry while she was filing a cup at the fountain. He struck Henry and took her to the ground. He strangled Henry with a choke hold and dragged her into the store's stockroom.

¶5 Henry played basketball for her school and was in good shape. Once inside the storeroom, she fought back. Appellant attacked Henry a second time. He repeatedly hit her. Appellant brutally beat Henry's head, face, neck, and chest. Appellant dragged Henry across the room causing her head to strike the floor. He stomped on her head, neck, arm, and upper back with his shoe. Appellant's prolonged savagery resulted in Henry's death. She asphyxiated on the blood in her lungs and died from the blunt force trauma to her head

and neck.

¶6 Appellant then took steps to conceal what he had done and flee to California. He put a sack around Henry's head and placed her body inside a shopping cart. Appellant covered Henry's body with boxes, pushed the cart out to Henry's car, and placed her body inside the back seat. Appellant gathered up peanut butter, sunflower seeds, a toothbrush, rubbing alcohol, and razors from the store's shelves and placed them in the car. He drove Henry's car to a semi-secluded area on his grandparent's land and removed her body from the car. Appellant completely undressed Henry from the waist down and pulled her jacket, tank-top, and sports bra up until they fully exposed her breasts. He dragged Henry's body to a muddy spot in the field and partially covered it with dirt and vegetation.

¶7 Appellant went inside his grandparent's home, put a clean shirt over the top of the shirt he was wearing, and collected additional items for his trip, including boots, clothing, hydrogen peroxide, and his wallet. Recognizing that it was too early for Appellant to be home from work, his grandfather, Stanley Bench, asked Appellant if he had quit or been fired. Appellant simply responded, "Yes." Appellant informed Mr. Bench that he was leaving. He went outside and washed himself in the water spigot. When he was done, he stuck his head back inside the door and declared; "Pa, I love you." Mr. Bench responded; "I do you too. Be careful out there and don't get hurt." Appellant stated, "Okay," and left.

¶8 Tammy Wilkerson ventured into the Teepee Totem around 8:15 that evening. She was alarmed to discover that the clerk was missing from the store. When she looked into the storeroom she discovered a pool of blood. Wilkerson called the Velma Police Department and contacted, Melissa Lynn, one of the other store clerks who lived nearby.

¶9 When Henry failed to return on time, her mother went looking for her. She contacted law enforcement when she was unable to find Henry.

¶10 The Stephen's County Sheriff's Department investigated Appellant's absence from the store. Deputy Michael Moore documented the interior of the convenience store and obtained a DNA sample from the pool of blood in the storeroom. Deputy David Martin went to the home of Appellant's grandparents to check on Appellant's welfare. Using canine officers, Lieutenant Chad Powell discovered Henry's nude body in the nearby field. The officers put out a "BOLO" alert for Henry's car.

¶11 Deputy Quinton Short of the Custer County Sheriff's Department received the alert and observed Henry's vehicle headed west on Interstate 40. He stopped the car and approached it on foot. Short observed in plain sight a large amount of blood in the backseat. He discovered Appellant seated in the driver's seat and ordered him to exit the car. Once outside the sedan, Appellant spontaneously declared that he was not driving the vehicle. Slightly confounded by Appellant's assertion, Short responded; "Then whose vehicle is it?" Appellant then stated; "I think I f****d up, I may have killed somebody." Deputy Short observed that Appellant had blood on his clothing. He took Appellant into custody and transported him to the Custer County Jail.

¶12 Chief Investigator Robert Short of the Custer County Sheriff's Department observed that Appellant had dirt on his face as well as on the shoulder of his shirt. He further noticed that Appellant had blood on his shirt, shoes, and socks. There was a mixture of blood and dirt on the bottom of Appellant's shoes. Short further observed that Appellant's hands were red and swollen.

¶13 Detention Officer, Kendall Brown, booked Appellant into the Custer County Jail. While Brown was gathering Appellant's information, Appellant interjected several admissions. Appellant informed Brown; "I think I might have messed up. I think I may have killed somebody." Later, Appellant mentioned; "I might have blacked out." Appellant asked Brown if he would be able to make bond. After Brown advised Appellant that he did not know, Appellant spontaneously stated; "I think I murdered someone. The officer in the car mentioned manslaughter *** isn't manslaughter murder?" Still later, Appellant volunteered; "I think Stephens County is gonna come get me."

¶14 Appellant repeatedly engaged Brown in small talk. Some of his statements evinced prior knowledge concerning the mental health system. Appellant volunteered that he had undergone "psych evaluations" while in the military and added that the "dude in the straight-jacket" is usually the one screaming that he is "not crazy."

¶15 Appellant attempted to develop grounds for an insanity plea from his conversation with Brown; Appellant asked where he was at? After Brown indicated that he was in Arapaho in Custer County, Appellant stated; "If they believe that I don't know where I am at they might believe that I was crazy." Thereafter, Appellant queried: "Since I blacked out do you think that I should go for an insanity plea or what?" Brown informed Appellant that he could not give him any legal advice whatsoever.

¶16 Investigator Justin Scott of the Stephens County District Attorney's Office executed a search warrant on Appellant's person. Appellant also spontaneously volunteered a statement to Scott. Appellant asked if Oklahoma had the death penalty. When Scott answered that under certain circumstances they do, Appellant declared that he needed death or needed to be locked away in the big house. Scott noticed that Appellant had a bite mark on his elbow.

¶17 Forensic testing revealed that Henry's DNA profile matched the DNA profile of the blood discovered in the storeroom. Similarly, Henry's profile matched the DNA profile of the blood found on Appellant's shoes.


¶18 In Proposition I Appellant contends that the trial court erred when it denied his pretrial request for a change of venue. He argues that this action denied him his right to an impartial jury and a fundamentally fair trial.

¶19 The Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial "'guarantees to the criminally accused a fair trial by a panel of impartial, ‘indifferent jurors’ " and it is a basic requirement of due process that an accused receive a fair trial in a fair tribunal. DeRosa v. State , 2004 OK CR 19, ¶ 17, 89 P.3d 1124, 1133 (quoting Irvin v. Dowd , 366 U.S. 717, 722, 81 S.Ct. 1639, 1642, 6 L.Ed.2d 751 (1961) ). Likewise, Article II, Section 20 of the Oklahoma Constitution and 22 O.S.2011, § 561 guarantee a criminal defendant a fair trial by an impartial jury.

¶20 We note that Henry's murder occurred in the small, rural farming community known as Velma. The town is approximately 18 miles southeast of Duncan, the county seat of Stephens County and where the trial took place.

¶21 Appellant timely filed an application for change of venue prior to trial. He cited to the titles of approximately 125 news articles appearing in either print, television or online. However, he did not include the content of the actual articl...

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