People v. Benson

Citation802 N.W.2d 627,290 Mich.App. 465
Decision Date02 November 2010
Docket NumberDocket Nos. 286960,287768.
CourtCourt of Appeal of Michigan — District of US

290 Mich.App. 465
802 N.W.2d 627


Docket Nos. 286960


Court of Appeals of Michigan.

Submitted Dec. 9, 2009, at Detroit.Decided Nov. 2, 2010, at 9:10 a.m.

[802 N.W.2d 631]

Michael A. Cox, Attorney General, B. Eric Restuccia, Solicitor General, Kym L. Worthy, Prosecuting Attorney, Timothy A. Baughman, Chief of Research, Training, and Appeals, and Jason W. Williams, Assistant Prosecuting Attorney, for the people.State Appellate Defender (by Gail Rodwan) for Paula R. Bennett.Burkett & Associates, Inc. (by Raymond R. Burkett, Detroit), for Kyron D. Benson.Before: METER, P.J., and BORRELLO and SHAPIRO, JJ.BORRELLO, J.

[290 Mich.App. 467] In these consolidated appeals, both defendants appeal their convictions arising out of the shooting death of Stephanie McClure in 2007.

[290 Mich.App. 468] In Docket No. 286960, defendant, Paula Renai Bennett, appeals as of right her conviction by a jury of first-degree murder, MCL 750.316. Bennett was sentenced to life in prison. For the reasons set forth in this opinion, we affirm.

In Docket No. 287768, defendant, Kyron Darell Benson, appeals as of right his convictions by a jury of possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony (felony-firearm), MCL 750.227b, possession of a firearm by a felon, MCL 750.224f, and first-degree murder, MCL 750.316. Benson was sentenced to two years in prison for the felony-firearm conviction, one to five years in prison for the felon-in-possession conviction, and life in prison for the first-degree-murder conviction. For the reasons set forth in this opinion, we affirm.1


Defendants lived together in Bennett's apartment. The victim, Stephanie McClure, was Bennett's friend and sometimes stayed at Bennett's apartment. In October 2007, defendants discovered that several items, including a PlayStation 2, clothes, and shoes, had been stolen from Bennett's apartment. Benson became angry over the stolen items and began to blame McClure for stealing them. Benson started making threatening comments to several people about McClure, including commenting that he wanted to kill McClure for stealing the items. Benson told one of the persons to whom he had indicated that he wanted to kill McClure, Breanna Kandler, one of Bennett's friends, that he would kill [290 Mich.App. 469] Kandler too if she “[said] anything” about his threats. Benson wanted Kandler to drive him to McClure's trailer to get the apartment key back from McClure. Kandler testified that she took Benson's threats seriously and, accordingly, refused to take Benson to McClure's trailer.

Later in the evening, defendants and several of their friends were at Bennett's apartment. They noticed that defendants' puppy was missing and were looking around the apartment for the dog. Benson joked that maybe the dog was in the freezer, and when he checked in the freezer, he did indeed find the puppy, which was dead. Benson immediately accused McClure of killing the dog as well. Two of Bennett's friends testified that they thought Benson had killed the dog because of the way he reacted to finding it. After the dead dog was disposed of, defendants and their friends went to a Dairy Mart.

[802 N.W.2d 632]

While at the Dairy Mart, Kandler saw Benson take a gun out of his car and put it in his pants. Another friend, Jessica Fritz, testified that she had previously seen her boyfriend sell a gun to Benson. Later that evening, Bennett and Benson left their friends, stating that they were going to “get [their] stuff back.”

Benson then called his friend Michael Larvaidan and asked him to meet defendants at a Kroger store. Larvaidan had spoken to Benson about the stolen items several times in the preceding days. He testified that he tried to get Benson to calm down about the incident. According to Larvaidan, while at Kroger, Benson was angry and “going on about trying to get his stuff back, ... talking about going to kill [McClure].” Benson showed Larvaidan a gun while he was talking about this. After Larvaidan got into the car with defendants, Bennett directed Benson to go to “Holiday West,” the [290 Mich.App. 470] trailer park where McClure lived. Benson drove according to Bennett's directions. Once they reached the trailer park, Bennett specifically directed Benson to McClure's trailer. They saw McClure standing outside by the trailer, in front of a car. Benson said, “That's her.”

Larvaidan testified that he told Benson, “[D]rive off.” Benson drove around the trailer park and then parked the car. Larvaidan told him “just to talk to her. Don't do nothing stupid.” Benson got out of the car and walked toward McClure's trailer. Bennett moved to the driver's seat, and she and Larvaidan continued to drive around the trailer park. While they were driving around, Larvaidan saw Benson talking to McClure. After several minutes they heard three or four gunshots and then saw Benson running away. Bennett started crying as soon as they heard the gunshots. Bennett drove toward where Benson was running, and Benson got back in the car. Larvaidan asked Benson, “Why?” Benson responded that “he would have lost respect in the ... hood.” Larvaidan also said, “[You] better hope she's dead ... ‘cause if she's not, [you're] going to jail.”

Because Bennett was charged with murder on a theory of aiding and abetting Benson, several witnesses testified regarding the interactions between defendants and Bennett's conduct toward Benson. The evidence presented demonstrated that Bennett was present when Benson started making threats about killing McClure, as well as threats toward Kandler. Benson was also yelling at Bennett at this time, telling her that she “was dumb for giving [McClure] a key.” Kandler testified before Bennett's jury only that Bennett told her that she thought Benson “looked pretty serious” about killing McClure, although Kandler testified that she never witnessed Bennett agree to kill McClure.

[290 Mich.App. 471] Fritz testified that she heard defendants arguing for an extended period before they went to McClure's trailer; Benson was again yelling at Bennett because she had given a key to McClure. Bennett told Benson that she had filed a report with the police and that the police would take care of it. Fritz could not recall Benson's response to Bennett. After the argument, Bennett told Fritz that she and Benson were “leaving to get their stuff back.”

Finally, Larvaidan testified that Benson was talking openly in the car about shooting McClure just before Bennett gave Benson directions to McClure's trailer. Bennett did not respond to these comments. Larvaidan also testified that after they heard gunshots, Bennett immediately began crying and drove back around toward McClure's trailer, where they observed Benson running away.

Following numerous seemingly erroneous leads, the police eventually arrested

[802 N.W.2d 633]

defendants for the murder of Stephanie McClure. After defendants were arrested, Benson was observed telling Bennett under the door between their jail cells, “Don't talk.” 2 Following trial, defendants were found guilty on all counts and sentenced as previously stated. These appeals ensued.

Bennett's first argument on appeal is that there was insufficient evidence to prove that she aided and abetted Benson in the commission of first-degree murder.

This Court reviews de novo claims of insufficient evidence, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution, to determine whether a rational trier of fact could find that the essential elements of the [290 Mich.App. 472] crime were proved beyond a reasonable doubt. People v. Tombs, 472 Mich. 446, 459, 697 N.W.2d 494 (2005) (opinion by Kelly, J.). Further, this Court must defer to the fact-finder's role in determining the weight of the evidence and the credibility of the witnesses. People v. Fletcher, 260 Mich.App. 531, 561, 679 N.W.2d 127 (2004). “[C]onflicts in the evidence must be resolved in favor of the prosecution.” Id. at 562, 679 N.W.2d 127. Circumstantial evidence and reasonable inferences arising therefrom may constitute proof of the elements of the crime. People v. Carines, 460 Mich. 750, 757, 597 N.W.2d 130 (1999).

The elements of first-degree murder are (1) the intentional killing of a human (2) with premeditation and deliberation. People v. Taylor, 275 Mich.App. 177, 179, 737 N.W.2d 790 (2007); MCL 750.316(1)(a). A defendant may be vicariously liable for murder on a theory of aiding and abetting. People v. Usher, 196 Mich.App. 228, 232–233, 492 N.W.2d 786 (1992), overruled in part on other grounds by People v. Perry, 460 Mich. 55, 64–65, 594 N.W.2d 477 (1999). The elements of aiding and abetting are

(1) the crime charged was committed by the defendant or some other person; (2) the defendant performed acts or gave encouragement that assisted the commission of the crime; and (3) the defendant intended the commission of the crime or had knowledge that the principal intended its commission at the time that [the defendant] gave aid and encouragement.

[ People v. Robinson, 475 Mich. 1, 6, 715 N.W.2d 44 (2006) (quotation marks and citations omitted).]

See also MCL 767.39. Bennett asserts that the prosecution did not prove the third element of aiding and abetting—that Bennett knew Benson intended to kill the victim at the time she directed him to where the victim lived.

There was evidence presented to the jury that demonstrated Bennett's desire to let the police resolve the [290 Mich.App. 473] issue of the victim's alleged theft of items from Bennett and Benson. Testimony elicited at trial clearly indicated that Bennett went to the police station to report the theft. Fritz testified that Bennett and Benson fought about the theft and that Benson blamed Bennett for giving the victim a key to their apartment. When Bennett and Benson left to go to the victim's trailer, Bennett told Fritz only that they were going to retrieve the stolen items. Nobody...

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