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Victim's Family Furious as Ex-Death Row Inmate Nears Parole

Posted November 30, 2007

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— A man once sentenced to die for an Onslow County slaying was released on a weekend leave in Raleigh Friday night and is scheduled to be paroled next month.

Jon Lee Benson shot and robbed restaurant manager Melvin LaVecchia in August 1985 as LaVecchia made a night deposit at a Jacksonville bank. Benson was convicted of first-degree murder and was sentenced to die.

The state Supreme Court vacated the death sentence in 1988, saying the sentence didn't fall into line with similar cases. Benson's sentence was reduced to life in prison.

"We figured he would be in jail for life," said LaVecchia's son, Larry LaVecchia.

But before North Carolina introduced structured sentencing in 1994, life sentences rarely meant prisoners spent their lives behind bars.

After spending 22 years in prison, Benson is scheduled to be paroled on Dec. 21 after participating in a program that transitions inmates from prison to work release to freedom.

Mary Harrop with the parole commission said Benson was allowed into the program two years ago because of his good behavior in prison.

About 500 inmates, most of them serving life sentences, participate in the early-release program, according to Harrop.

Benson is serving the end of his sentence at Wake Correctional Center in Raleigh. He also has gotten married during his incarceration. Benson says prison made him a much different person than the one who shot and killed Melvin LaVecchia 22 years ago.

“It doesn’t matter if you spend a day in here, it changes you,” Benson said. “But it hasn’t changed me for the worst. If anything, it’s changed me for the better because I’ve seen the worst that humanity has. And so now, I don’t want to be like that.”

Benson worked for LaVecchia at the Po Folks restaurant in Jacksonville. One summer night in 1985, he waited for LaVecchia to make his nightly bank deposit. When he did, Benson was there to rob him.

He shot him in the legs with a 12-gauge shotgun, severing a major artery. LaVecchia died at the hospital, and Benson took off with $757 in cash.

“I wasn’t trying to kill him,” Benson said. “If I was trying to kill him, naturally a person’s going to shoot him in the … an area of the body where you’re going to kill the person. It’s just unfortunate that’s what happened.”

LaVecchia's family is furious about Benson's pending release.

"A convicted murderer getting out? I mean, they say you play this game, you pass the test, you get out. This just isn't right," Larry LaVecchia said.

Family members also are upset that they were never notified that Benson was up for parole.

“They basically said since we didn’t register online they had no way to notify us,” Larry LaVecchia said. “But yet the information was given to them in 1986 when there was no Internet.”

78 Comments

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  • OSX Dec 2, 2007

    Any Marines remember Po Folk's back then? Their Chicken and Dumplings were the best....

  • bomanicous Dec 2, 2007

    Unfortunately I know exactly how the Levechia family feels. The system turned their "back" on the victims family and it's just not right. Now they have to spend their time monitoring this so-called person, wondering were he's at, what's he up to, realizing how many people look like him, etc...This is just wrong, he should have been executed 20 years ago.

  • oyid Dec 2, 2007

    Wow.

  • oyid Dec 2, 2007

    Oh boy! Well I learn two things:

    1. Shooting someone in the leg might still lead to murder. See Sean Taylor.

    2. Life in prison doesn't mean life in prison...seems to be the reason why criminals go smiling to their arraignment...even after a murder. Oh well, don't be frustrated, it's American Justice.

  • blondton13 Dec 2, 2007

    Funny. But not in an amsuing manner. Liberal (usually) here that agrees with the comedian Ron White...in reference to Texas and the death penalty, he talks about "putting in an express lane."

    Would be a welcome thing in this situation.

    Hello??

  • linh40 Dec 1, 2007

    Paul Revere.....Maybe Gov. "Sleazely" is on the phone trying to find out why Gov. Martin commuted his sentence from death to life to start with.

  • Heatherbrook Dec 1, 2007

    When will things turn around to give the victims some rights?

  • ncmom65 Dec 1, 2007

    I wasn’t trying to kill him,” Benson said. “If I was trying to kill him, naturally a person’s going to shoot him in the … an area of the body where you’re going to kill the person. It’s just unfortunate that’s what happened.”

    This guy is really just a bit too much....unfortunate.....I guess so! What did he think was going to happen when he shot the man!
    As long as our government continues to tolerate such blantant negligence for human life and such stupidity, we will never be safe on our streets, in our homes, or just going about our lives.
    This is your tax dollars at work, folks.

  • drnc Dec 1, 2007

    There is no justice for the victims of crime. There is no justice for those who obey the law. There is no justice for the right or righteous.

  • daisy Dec 1, 2007

    This guy should not be walking our streets. I do believe in capital punishment but I think the guilty should have an opportunity to appeal for a limited amount of time, say 12 months to appeal. They need to have some chance to have a second look if there are questions of the verdict, remember the guy who just recently was found innocent of the rape that put him behind bars for 18 years. If there was no appeal process he would still be behind bars.

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