Jury takes just two hours to find Richard Wayne Bennett guilty of bilking an elderly man of his life savings.
BY POLLY SEARS
DAILY WORLD WRITER
MONTESANO – A Central Park man was convicted Friday of bilking an elderly Aberdonian of most of his life savings.
A Grays Harbor Superior Court jury deliberated about two hours before finding 53-year-old Richard Wayne Bennett guilty of first-degree theft by deception.
Sentencing is scheduled for March 9. Standard sentencing range is two to six months, but Deputy Prosecutor Jason Richards said he plans to ask Judge Mark McCauley for an exceptional sentence. The maximum sentence Bennett could serve is 10 years in prison.
The victim, John Boyd, 78, a retired mill worker and Daily World paper carrier, was not in the courtroom when the verdict was announced. But his sister, Dorothy Rowland of Spokane, wasted little time before showing her elation.
“Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!” Rowland said as she hurried up to the deputy prosecutor to give him a hug.
“What a relief,” she said, smiling.
Bennett breathed deeply as the verdict was read, then smiled thinly and seemed to be on the verge of tears.
It was clearly a satisfying verdict for Richards, who had a role in prosecuting Bennett in 1995 on charges that he wrote thousands of dollars of worthless checks to creditors and employees of his Aberdeen mail service business.
In that case, prosecutors alleged that Bennett wrote $2,600 in checks on closed and empty accounts.
A judge dismissed the charges for lack of evidence.
Police and prosecutors say Bennett has a long criminal history but has often slipped away.
“I believe Richard Bennett has finally been held accountable for his action,” the deputy prosecutor said. “There will be a lot of victims out there who will be happy.”
Yesterday’s conviction stems from a scheme that began after Boyd’s wife of 33 years died in 1995. Prosecutors told the jury that Bennett befriended Boyd, then tricked him into draining nearly $100,000 from an annuity account. Over a two-month period, Bennett then spent the money on items and services for himself and his downtown Aberdeen mail service business, which later moved to Central Park.
Bennett, who described himself in testimony as a reformed pathological liar, admitted to spending some of the money on drugs and alcohol. But the defense argued that Bennett never intended to defraud Boyd, that Boyd was his friend and business partner who knew the money was being spent.
Bennett admitted only to “mis-managing” some of the funds because of his problems with drugs and alcohol.
Deputy Prosecutor Richards, at times flailing his arms, delivered an emotional closing argument.
He cited testimony by bank employees and other witnesses who indicated that Bennett took complete control over Boyd’s finances and took measures to “cover his tracks,” including going by several different last names – Ben-Neth and Masters, among them.
Richards referred to Bennett’s own testimony, including an admission on cross examination, Friday morning to having an ego “bigger than most.” That’s one area where the defendant was telling the truth, the deputy prosecutor said in his summation.
“The defendant wants to be Big Man on Campus,” Richards told the jury, his voice rising.
“He wants to live the good life. He wants to drive the nice cars. He wants to eat in good restaurants. He wants to snort his cocaine,” the deputy prosecutor said, “He wants to wheel and deal with the big guys.”
“And how does he go about doing that? How does he sustain this lifestyle? He finds a little old man named Mr. Boyd, an elderly man who is lonely, who is unsophisticated and who has a lot of money in the bank … and he takes his money.
“Ladies and gentlemen, by any definition that’s theft. That’s theft, pure and simple,” he concluded.
But defense attorney Don McConnell told the jury to concentrate on the facts of the case.
“Probably one of the wisest attorneys I ever met once told me, ‘If you have the facts, you beat the facts; if you don’t have the facts you beat the table’,” McConnell said.
No one knows exactly what happened between Bennett and Boyd, he said – not him, not the prosecutors and not the bank employees, who he charged with being “tremendously biased” against his client.
The elderly Boyd himself testified that he didn’t remember “anything other than what he had been told” by the prosecution. McConnell said.
But testimony, McConnell continued, showed that Boyd was present when many of the purchases were made and consented to transactions.
The defense attorney told the jury that it wasn’t necessary to find his client likeable to find him not guilty. The important thing to consider, the attorney said, intent, and his client testified that he never intended to defraud Boyd.
As for this use of different names, that’s not a crime, McConnell said. Bennett had testified that Ben-Neth is his Hebrew name and Masters is the last name of his ex-wife and how Boyd introduced him to others.
Bennett, McConnell reminded the jury, also testified that he had offered to reimburse Boyd, but the prosecution wouldn’t let him out of jail to do it.
The jury was clearly unconvinced.
Aberdeen Police Sgt. James Clarkson, who investigated the case, said he was “very thankful for the verdict.
“It not only represents justice for Mr. Boyd, but a lot of other people not here,” he said.