RALEIGH, N.C. — 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.