PRINCETON - A jury took less than 30 minutes Thursday to convict a Mercer County man of first-degree sexual assault, sexual abuse by a parent, guardian or custodian, and incest involving a 3-year-old child.
Henry Vincent Bennett, 26, of Bluefield was arrested last February after detectives with the Bluefield Police Department investigated statements a 3-year-old girl made to relatives and state child advocacy workers that she had been sexually abused.
In one statement, the child said that Bennett had placed his “butt on her butt.” The child also made a Play-Doh model of a penis and said it was Bennett’s “butt,” Cindy Lambert, a worker with the child advocacy organization Second Chances, testified Wednesday.
While being interviewed last February by Detective J.B. Fox of the Bluefield Police Department — who is now a trooper with the West Virginia State Police in Wyoming County — Bennett at first denied sexually assaulting the 3-year-old. He then said that two nighttime incidents in his bedroom, one involving a sex toy and another involving oral sex, happened by accident after the child crawled into the bed while his wife was away in the bathroom. Recordings of the interviews were played for the jury.
After hearing closing arguments, the 12 jurors started deliberations about 11:35 a.m. and announced just before noon that they had a verdict. Bennett listened as Circuit Court Judge Derek Swope read the verdicts and informed him that he had been found guilty on two charges of first-degree sexual assault, two charges of sexual abuse by a parent, guardian or custodian and two charges of incest.
In West Virginia, first-degree sexual assault carries a penalty of 25 to 100 years in prison. The sexual abuse charges each have a possible term of 5 to 15 years, and incest is punishable by 10 to 20 years in prison, according to Prosecuting Attorney George Sitler.
If the sentences ran consecutively, Bennett could face 80 to 270 years behind bars, Sitler said later.
Bennett testified Thursday that he dropped out of school when he reached the ninth grade, had been in special education, and failed twice to earn a GED. He stated while being questioned by attorney Earl Hager, who represented him with attorney Brandon Austin, that his wife’s mother, who brought up some of the allegations, had never approved of him and tried to break up him and his wife, April Bennett. April Bennett pleaded guilty to child neglect creating a risk of serious bodily harm or death. She is scheduled to be sentenced later this month.
Hager asked Bennett about two interviews he had with Detective Fox. Bennett said that an officer had told him while he was being taken to the police station that he could go home if he confessed. No mention of a promise was heard in the interviews’ recordings. Bennett repeatedly said that the confession he gave to the police was not true.
Bennett was also asked about the sex toys, which he said he kept out of sight from the children. He stated that the child had walked into the bedroom, which didn’t have a lock, while he and his wife were using them.
While being cross-examined by Sitler, Bennett wept and denied that he sexually assaulted the child, saying that he made up the confession so he could go home. At one point, Sitler handed Bennett a tissue to wipe his tears.
“You thought making up a story would give you can chance to go home?” Sitler asked. “Why did you do it?”
“Because I was scared,” Bennett replied.
Sitler pointed out a nearby table with several sex toys on it, and said that Bennett had pointed out the one that had been used during one of the incidents. Sitler then asked Bennett how, in the dark, he could have mistaken a 185-pound woman for a 3-year-old weighing 30 pounds.
“I was laying on my back,” Bennett said. “I thought it was April, and when I rolled over (child) yelled”
“You told Officer Fox after that incident happened, you regretted that,” Sitler said.
“I regretted saying that…I regretted talking to him, yes,” Bennett stated.
In his closing argument to the jury, Hager spoke about Bennett’s mental capacity and his statements to the police.
“Basically, what you have here is a false confession,” Hager said, adding later his client “didn’t even know what an attorney is.”
“Henry Bennett is a child living in an adult’s body, so he made up a lie so he could go home,” Hager said.
After the jury was dismissed, Swope scheduled a hearing for motions and possible sentencing for March 26, 2019. Swope also ordered that Bennett undergo a pre sentencing investigation and a sex offender evaluation.
Bennett is being held at the Southern Regional Jail in Beaver.
"I want to thank Detectives Brad Fox and Kenneth Adams of the Bluefield Police Department for their hard work on this case, as well as the staff at Child Protect and Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Adam Wolfe for their work in preparing this case for trial, ” Sitler said later.
— Contact Greg Jordan at email@example.com