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Attorney: Assailant Entered Bennett's Apartment Through Faulty Window

Posted January 16, 2007

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— An assailant likely entered through Stephanie Bennett's apartment window and then attacked her in her sleep, an attorney said Tuesday during opening statements of a civil trial stemming from the 2002 homicide case.

Bennett's bed covers were neatly pulled back, Durham attorney Charles Bentley said. By her bed was a glass of tea, a cordless phone and a Harry Potter book.

A maintenance employee found Bennett, 23, an IBM employee, dead inside her home at Bridgeport Apartments on May 21, 2002. An autopsy showed she had been raped and strangled.

Bennett's father, Carmon Bennett, is suing Equity Residential, the owner of the apartment complex, claiming it failed to protect his daughter from her killer, in part, because of a faulty window.

Bentley said the window was installed incorrectly and would not lock. Bridgeport Apartments, he said, was first notified of the problem in 1999.

But attorney Dan Hartzog, who represents Equity, said it could not be proven that Bennett's killer entered through the window and that the assailant could have entered through the front door and relocked it.

Carmon Bennett also alleges that shrubbery around the building was too high and that there was inadequate lighting. Both factors allowed the assailant to hide and prowl outside his daughter's apartment, Bentley said.

On April 27, 2002, two tenants told the complex and Raleigh police a peeping Tom looking through Bennett's window. According to Bentley, Bridgeport never notified tenants about the incident.

Bentley said Bennett knew about the sighting and had shared with her aunt in an e-mail that she was scared. On May 4, she notified Bridgeport in writing of her intent to move.

The case could have ramifications for how apartment complexes handle security. Bridgeport had a security officer when Bennett moved into the complex in July 2001, but got rid of the officer in October 2001 without notifying tenants.

Hartzog said there was nothing his client could have done to prevent Bennett's death.

"This is an effort to hold Bridgeport Apartments and its owners liable for a crime which it did not commit," Hartzog said.

He talked about Drew Planten, the 35-year-old state Department of Agriculture worker who was charged in October 2005 in connection with the case. Planten committed suicide less than three months after his arrest.

Hartzog said Planten had been stalking Bennett and characterized him as a cold-blooded, ruthless serial killer who was ritualistic and organized.

He also talked about evidence seized from Planten's apartment, which included addresses and maps for 27 other women, personal items such as underwear and feminine hygiene products, pornographic materials and weapons.

Hartzog also talked about the 1999 shooting death of Rebecca Huismann, who at one point, lived two miles from Planten in Lansing, Mich.

Authorities found items belonging to Huismann in Platen's apartment, including a gun linked to her death and letters addressed to her.

Lansing prosecutors said they were convinced that Planten was responsible for her death.
16 Comments

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  • Dave Green Jan 18, 2007

    "An assailant likely entered through Stephanie Bennett's apartment window and then attacked her in her sleep, an attorney said"
    Since when does an attorney's unsubstantiated (meaning not backed up by direct testimony) opening statements determine the outcome of a trial?
    The facts, people, please. Emotion is fine but in it's proper place.

  • onnumber9 Jan 16, 2007

    WOW… I have read with amazement comments posted concerning this story. Some of us have been watching it since Miss Bennett was found and I suppose that we are more educated about the situation than say, bradfordfamilyus@yahoo.com; nthomas42@yahoo.com or builder276@hotmail.com ( whom I wonder is a slumlord). I would hate to think my child was paying over 700.00 per month rent in a “gated” complex and I as “daddy” would need to repair a broken window lock or trim hedges. Making reports to management is doing something builder276, unless Bridgeport takes the same slumlord opinion you have. Miss Bennett had as I read notified Bridgeport of her intent to move, as someone mentioned, there is usually a 30 day notice, plus Miss Bennett did have 2 roommates who might need time to make living arrangements. Also, my understanding is Miss Bennett was promised a 2nd floor apartment, but the day they moved in one was not ready. As I have watched this story, it has amazed me that Mr.

  • uncw05 Jan 16, 2007

    Let this be a lesson to everyone who lives in an apt, don't trust them to take care of you, watch your own back, and test your own windows. Same for a house you have just moved into for that matter. People are not all as smart as you, nor do they have your best interest in mind the way you do..... sad but true, don't trust anyone

  • cycleadvocate Jan 16, 2007

    The window was defective and appeared to be locked when in fact it could be opened from the outside. The landlord knew the window was defective.

    The landlord knew that there was a prowler around the apartment and that the window would not hold when it appeared locked. The tenant was fearful and thus made sure her window was locked. Little did she know that the lock would not hold.

    The landlord collected rent while reprsenting to the tenants that the apartments had basic security such as windows with locks that worked. The landlord took her money and did not provide the security. The rapist/murder entered through the defective window.

    Looks like a slam dunk to me.

  • katgoesloco Jan 16, 2007

    I live in another apartment complex managed by the same company. I'm horrified that the company allowed the broken window to exist for three years before somebody was finally killed. If it takes a lawsuit to get apartment companies to do basic safety maintenance, then that's what it takes. I hope that the company will be more careful in the future.

  • Tax Man Jan 16, 2007

    Since the father and the attorney want to insure this does not happen to another young woman, it would be appropriate for them to donate any amounts recovered in this suit, including attorneys fees, to homeless shelters for women. God Bless the family and the victim.

  • Salty Jan 16, 2007

    ANYONE BLAMING THIS POOR YOUNG LADY'S FATHER IS A SORRY EXCUSE FOR AN INDIVIDUAL. THE COMPLEX HAS BEEN CLEARLY NEGLIGENT IN NOTIFYING IT'S TENANTS OF DANGER ISSUES AND OF PERFORMING EVEN THE MOST OBVIOUS SAFETY PRECAUTIONS. IF SOMEONE CAN FEEL SAFE ANYWHERE, THEIR RESIDENCE SHOULD BE THAT PLACE AT THE VERY LEAST. HAVING A PEEPING TOM WOULD DEFINITELY BE THREATENING TO THIS YOUNG LADY, AS SHE WAS EVEN PLANNING TO MOVE IN A FEW WEEKS...TOO BAD SHE COULDNT HAVE BEEN GONE ANY SOONER. I HOPE THAT THIS PLANTEN FREAK BURNS IN HELL...AND THAT MR BENNETT IS ABLE TO HELP PREVENT THIS SORT OF GROSS NEGLIGENCE IN THE FUTURE BY SETTING A STANDARD FOR A COMMUNITY'S RESPONSIBILITY TO PROVIDING FOR IT'S TENANTS SAFETY.

  • crazymom501 Jan 16, 2007

    People are quick to judge others let this be your daughter and see how you feel!!! God Bless the Bennett Family

  • IHave1-2 Jan 16, 2007

    Article clearly states the complex was first notified in 1999... nothing was done except terminating security without notifying tenants in 2001. It also states she gave her notice to vacate the premises only days before her murder because she was scared. Why so many questions and if's? Restraining orders don't prevent crimes, nor does security systems. How could a faulty window be any different?

  • WhatEver Jan 16, 2007

    geezbus, why are you blaming "daddy". So everything bad that happens to you is your "daddy's" fault. The only one to blame is the person who attacked her and the appartment owner. If you read the article she was going to move. You do have to give a 30 day notice. Even if she would have had a gun who's to say she would have had a chance to use it.

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