Cynthia Bennett used to go running and hiking with her husband. She thinks often of their plans to retire out West, to build a home where their grown daughters could visit them. She misses their everyday conversations, she told a Loudoun County judge Wednesday.
Nearly 21 / 2 years after she and her husband were viciously assaulted while taking an early-morning walk, Bennett, 57, spoke publicly about the attack’s aftermath in a Loudoun County courtroom — describing in powerful detail the lasting impact of her husband’s murder and her ongoing struggle to recover from injuries that left her hospitalized for months.
“I’m not able to do things I used to be able to do . . . people look at me differently,” said Bennett, who suffered permanent nerve damage to her leg and now uses a cane. “It’s just living in a different world than I used to live in.”
Bennett’s testimony came at the sentencing hearing for Jaime Ayala, 19, who in February pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in the fatal beating of William Bennett, 57. Ayala also pleaded guilty to aggravated malicious wounding in the attack on Cynthia Bennett. Loudoun County Circuit Judge James H. Chamblin imposed the maximum sentence allowed, life in prison plus 40 years.
Chamblin told Ayala, one of three men who prosecutors have said were involved in the 2009 attack, that he had thought “long and hard” to try to find words to describe the crimes: “Heinous, reprehensible, evil, inexcusable, unjustifiable, detestable, disgusting.”
All were insufficient, Chamblin said — “they don’t come close.”
The Bennetts were attacked in the pre-dawn hours on March 22, 2009, as they walked in their quiet Lansdowne neighborhood. Prosecutors have said that the couple was targeted at random and that robbery was probably the motive.
Loudoun County Sheriff’s Lt. Christopher Hines testified that deputies immediately found William Bennett’s body near the roadway — but Cynthia Bennett lay in the darkness for 45 minutes until investigators spotted her, about 50 yards away.
Howard David Reines, a trauma surgeon at Inova Fairfax Hospital, said Cynthia Bennett suffered cuts and broken bones in her face and around her eyes. One ear was partially torn off, he said, and she had a severe injury to her pelvic area.
She lost more than five quarts of blood through the wound in her lower body before doctors could halt the bleeding, Reines said.
“In 30 years, I don’t think I’ve ever quite seen anything like it,” he said.
The Bennetts were both retired from the Army — William Bennett had attained the rank of lieutenant colonel and worked as a CIA contractor, and Cynthia Bennett had worked as director of procurement for the architect of the Capitol. The couple had a house in Loudoun, which Bennett sold after the attack — a “bittersweet” decision, she said.
“I was missing what I had with my husband there,” Bennett said. And she wanted to leave the area “so I didn’t have to remember what happened. . . . I need to make a new life and move on.” She testified that she has no recollection of the attack.
Ayala contends that he drove two other men — Darwin G. Bowman, 20, of Annandale, and Anthony R. Roberts, 22, of Middleburg — to the scene and that they jumped out to rob the couple. Ayala has told investigators that the pair came back to the van after the beating and that the trio left but soon returned to retrieve evidence and burn it.
“There is no justification for my actions,” Ayala said in court. “I hate the fact that I was involved in something so horrible.”
Bowman is awaiting trial on capital murder charges. Roberts has not been charged in the case but was sentenced to seven years in prison in December 2009 for burglarizing a Leesburg gun store.
Samantha Bennett, 29, the younger of the couple’s two daughters, recalled how her father came out of retirement after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and went to Iraq for a year. Her voice began to shake as she spoke.
“He goes for a walk down the street, and the same people he swore to protect take his life away, for no [expletive] reason at all,” she said. “My faith in people is lost.”
Chamblin said he found it difficult to believe that Ayala had no idea what was about to happen when he stopped the van that day.
“You let it happen. And you didn’t do anything about it after,” Chamblin said. “That was the time to make it right, Mr. Ayala. Not now.”