UPDATE, 2:30 p.m.: A Loudoun County judge Wednesday afternoon sentenced 19-year-old Jaime Ayala to life plus 40 years in prison, the maximum sentence, for the 2009 murder of William Bennett and the savage beating of his wife Cynthia Bennett.
Loudoun Circuit Court Judge James H. Chamblin said he searched for words to describe the attack on the Bennetts.
“And the words that come to my mind are heinous, reprehensible, evil, inexcusable, unjustifiable, destestable, disgusting,” the judge said. “And they don’t come close to how the court feels about this offense.”
Ayala apologized to the Bennett family. “There is no justification in my actions,” he said. “”All of this is on me. I hate the fact that I was involved in something so horrible.”
ORIGINAL POST, 1:15 p.m.: In the still of a Leesburg courtroom, some of the ghastly details of what happened to William and Cynthia Bennett as they took a Sunday morning walk in Lansdowne emerged for the first time Wednesday morning.
William Bennett was murdered, and the doctor who first saw Cynthia Bennett in the emergency room said: “In 30 years, I don't think I've ever seen such damage.”
Also for the first time, Cynthia Bennett spoke publicly about how her life was changed by the brutal attack in March 2009. Fortunately, she remembers none of it. Her first memory is being moved to another hospital for rehabilitation about a month later. But somehow, she said, she knew that her husband had been killed.
And the Bennetts' adult daughters also spoke for the first time about the horror of seeing their mother clinging to life in an intensive care unit, and learning that their father was dead.
William Bennett had served as a soldier in Special Forces and a contractor in the CIA, and emerged from retirement to join the war on terror after the Sept. 11 attacks.
With Jaime Ayala, the 19-year-old who will be sentenced later today, watching impassively from the defense table, daughter Samantha Bennett said through tears that her father had been “serving his country. Which is frustrating, he goes for a walk down the road and the people he'd sworn to protect take his life for no f------ reason. Sorry. I wish there were more people like him.”
The attack on the Bennetts was a random, senseless assault which rocked Loudoun County for weeks, until Ayala, then 17, and two of his pals — Darwin Bowman, then 18, and Anthony Roberts, then 19 — were arrested.
The Bennetts had been out for a pre-dawn walk on Riverside Parkway when, according to Ayala, Bowman and Roberts decided to jump out of the van Ayala was driving and rob the couple.
After savagely beating them both and returning to the van, Ayala told a Loudoun sheriff's investigator, Bowman and Roberts told Ayala to return to the scene so they could retrieve evidence and burn it. The trio then went to a Sterling industrial park and burned their own clothes and other items.
Sheriff's deputies first found William Bennett lying face down on one side of the Parkway. But in testimony today, it was revealed that Cynthia Bennett was not found for about another 45 minutes, when she rose up briefly as deputies searched for evidence.
Both Bennetts had been smashed in the face with a blunt metal object, according to Howard Reines, the emergency room doctor at Inova Fairfax Hospital who was the first to see Cynthia Bennett. William Bennett's skull had been fractured in the back from ear to ear.
In addition to her severe facial injuries, Cynthia Bennett had been brutally assaulted in her groin area and was bleeding profusely, Reines said. Before long, she had lost all of the blood in her body, Reines said.Bennett's body temperature was 83 degrees, which Reines said he had only seen one other person survive. A team of ten doctors worked on her. Somehow, she survived.
In my 25 years of covering crime, it was easily some of the most horrific testimony I have ever heard.
Cynthia Bennett walked slowly to the witness stand with the use of a cane. She said her first memory was being transferred to Inova Mount Vernon Hospital weeks after the attack, and “I remember not actually seeing the incident, but I knew he was gone.”
Ayala entered an Alford plea and was found guilty of second-degree murder and aggravated malicious wounding. He is already in prison for an unrelated gang assault (he was a member of the 18th Street gang). He is facing a sentence of 20 years to life from Loudoun Circuit County Judge James Chamblin.
Cynthia Bennett was most bitter about having her independence robbed by the attack, taking away her ability to run and go where she wanted. Her plans with her husband to retire and build a house out west were trashed. “He really loved his family, he loved his girls, he loved me,” she said. Cynthia Bennett has lasting intestinal injuries, and her hopes of running again are faint.
Bennett's daughter noted that they will have to relive this horror again, in the prosecutions of Bowman and Roberts. “This has been a nightmare, and it's a never ending nightmare,” Samantha Bennett said. “And we know we're going to have to do this again, to reopen all these wounds really sucks.”