Local News

Drew Planten's Death Leaves Many Questions Unanswered

Posted January 3, 2006 7:54 a.m. EST
Updated May 8, 2008 11:49 a.m. EDT

— Drew Planten, the man accused in the rape and homicide of Stephanie Bennett in May 2002, has died, apparently from a suicide.

Central Prison officials said that an officer conducting routine rounds found Planten unresponsive in his prison cell at about 2 p.m. Monday. Planten's attorney, Kirk Osborn, told WRAL that his client hanged himself with an unknown object.

Planten, 35, was taken to an emergency room at Central Prison, where medical staff tried to resuscitate him. He was pronounced dead at 2:37 p.m.

Osborn told The Associated Press that he had met with Planten last Thursday for more than an hour to discuss the case and that Planten seemed much improved from the man with disheveled long haired hiding his face who authorities trussed into a wheelchair and wheeled before a judge because he refused to cooperate.

"He was conversant. He was doing fine," Osborn said.

Planten was transferred from the Wake County Jail to Central Prison because after his arrest he refused to eat or otherwise cooperate with jailers.

Osborn also said he was stunned by the suicide. He called the death suspicious, saying he was under the impression that his client was under 24-hour supervision inside his cell.

The state Department of Correction said that during his first few days at the prison, Planten was uncooperative and would not talk to prison staff or follow directions. In recent weeks, however, he had been responsive and cooperative and was placed in a regular housing assignment.

"In inmates that are a potential for suicide, they are evaluated by a psychologist or a psychiatrist and the way they are managed is consistent with the psychiatrist or psychologist's recommendation -- with a sound treatment plan," said Keith Acree, a spokesman for the Department of Correction. "We do that for every inmate, and we did that in this case."

Acree went on to say that if an inmate were desperate to commit suicide, it would be very difficult to keep him or her from doing so.

He also said that State Bureau of Investigation agents were investigating Planten's death, but it did not immediately appear that anyone else was involved.

"It all appears at this point to be a suicide attempt on his part," Acree said.

Planten's body, however, was to be taken to the State Medical Examiner's office for an autopsy.

More than three years after Bennett's death, authorities arrested Planten outside where he worked for the North Carolina Department of Agriculture on Oct. 19.

Investigators said they were able to link Planten to Bennett's death using DNA found at the crime scene at Bennett's North Raleigh apartment. Authorities said that they also found evidence at Planten's apartment that linked him to the crime, including some of Bennett's belongings.

Bennett's Father: 'Maybe There's Some Consolation'

For three years, Bennett's parents hoped they would learn one day why someone would have wanted to kill their daughter, who they described as someone full of life who always had a smile on her face.

Planten's suicide has left them with mixed emotions.

"There were some questions that could have been answered, but now they never will be," said Carmon Bennett, Stephanie Bennett's father. "That's one thing about it -- a sentence was carried out and we don't have to have an extended stay on death row."

Bennett realizes Planten's suicide is out of his control. Still, he and his family say they cannot help but have difficulty with the way everything has ended.

"There's one thing about this -- the hands that took my daughter's life took his life," Bennett said. "Maybe there's some consolation there. I haven't really had time to think about this."

Investigators who worked tirelessly on the Bennett homicide, say Planten's death has deprived everyone of a sense of a traditional justice and any answers that a trial and Planten may have given them.

"One of the big questions that I always had in this case, that will never be resolved now, I don't think, is "Why her?" said Ret. Raleigh Police Detective Chris Morgan, who worked on the case for more than two years before he retired.

Morgan said all investigators hope to learn things that will help them solve or help prevent future crimes.

"And I'll always wonder if Planten could have told us something else about why people do these things," he said.

"It's certainly not the ending I thought we'd have, but it's not like I'm going to go to sleep tonight wondering if we charged the right person," said Wake County prosecutor Susan Spurlin.

Morgan agrees.

"I mean, there was a strong, strong case," he said. "You can't get much stronger than a positive DNA match."

The Raleigh Police Department had no official comment on Planten's death.

Planten Linked To Michigan Homicide

Planten, who moved from Michigan to North Carolina, was also the prime suspect in the 1999 death of a young Lansing woman, 22-year-old Rebecca Huismann, who Lansing authorities said was shot in the head.

Detectives linked Planten to Huismann's death when they searched his apartment and found a gun that was later confirmed to be the gun used to kill Huismann.

Prosecutors in Michigan were expected to make a decision this week about whether to charge Planten in connection with her death.

Huismann's mother, Glenna Huismann, told WRAL Monday that she was very hopeful that Planten would be arrested in her daughter's death. She said that despite what happened, she still knows it was him.

She also said she felt bad for Planten's mother who has now lost her son.

Planten's mother, Sarah Chandler, declined to comment on her son's death, but in an interview with WRAL on Oct. 20, she described him as a "good person" and "upstanding citizen."

Family members said that Planten was rarely portrayed as they saw him -- "a regular guy from a regular family."