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Suspect's Mother: Planten An 'Upstanding Citizen'

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RALEIGH, N.C. — The mother of a suspected killer said Thursday that her son, Drew Edward Planten, is a "good person" and "an upstanding citizen" and that it was difficult to believe the charges he now faces in a three-year-old homicide case.

Planten, 35, of Raleigh, was arrested Wednesday and charged with first-degree murder in the May 2002 death of Stephanie Renee Bennett, who was found dead in her North Raleigh apartment, gagged, strangled and raped, according to investigators.

Sheriff's deputies wheeled Planten into a Wake County courtroom Thursday, saying the suspect had been unresponsive since his arrest, refusing to talk or even stand. Restraining him in a wheelchair, they said, was the only way to keep him upright.

"They've been watching him for four weeks and there's been no sign of any of this until after he was arrested," said Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby. "The whole thing is a ruse."

Planten was sent for medical testing and would be watched closely at Central Prison by doctors. He was moved from the Wake County Jail to the prison for safekeeping, authorities said.

While authorities have not released much information about Planten, his mother, Sarah Chandler, of Charlotte, Mich., said the murder charge against her son is hard to comprehend and something she could not imagine.

"I'm in shock because he's never been in trouble before," Chandler told WRAL's Julia Lewis Thursday. "It's hard to believe he's even suspected of something like this."

Raleigh police arrested Planten Wednesday afternoon outside the fertilizer laboratory where he worked as a chemistry technician for the North Carolina Department of Agriculture. Making about $32,000 a year, much of Planten's work involves testing fertilizer samples.

Chandler said her son graduated from Michigan State University in 1995 with a degree in zoology. He was an honor student with a love of science who always got good grades, never got into trouble and had never been aggressive toward anyone.

Five years later, Planten moved to Raleigh to work with the agriculture department and lived at the Dominion on Lake Lynn Apartments, less than a mile from where Bennett lived at Bridgeport Apartments on Lake Lynn Drive.

"I always got a weird feeling from him," said Dana Allen, who lived in the same building as Planten. "I told my husband to keep an eye on him because I thought he didn't seem right."

A year after Bennett was found dead in her apartment, Planten moved out of his apartment. Chandler told WRAL that her son never talked about Bennett's death.

"Had he ever mentioned Stephanie Bennett's name?" WRAL's Julia Lewis asked Chandler.

"No, I never heard him mention any woman's name," Chandler said.

From all indications, Planten kept to himself at Birchwood Apartments on Buck Jones Road in Raleigh. Many of his neighbors said they would see him walking his dog, but said he never spoke. Even at the corner store where he would shop, there was a sense of mystery around him.

"(He was a) quiet guy -- never talked," said the shop's owner, Mark Samour. "(He would) just buy something and leave."

Investigators and family members of the victim said Wednesday that they did not think Bennett knew Planten.

"Stephanie did not know this person, I'm quite sure," said Carmon Benton, the victim's father. He said police told him that Planten was a recluse.

"He doesn't associate with anyone and doesn't have any friends," Bennett said police told him. "He was just a very weird individual."

Police believe Planten was also may have been a peeping tom reported in the area; they also believe he had walked a dog in Bennett's neighborhood weeks leading up to her death.

Investigators would not say exactly how they linked Planten to Bennett's death. They said earlier this year, they approached the suspect for a voluntary DNA sample, but he refused. Still, investigators were able to link Planten to Bennett's death.

"We've made a positive match from DNA on the suspect in this case," said Raleigh Police Maj. Dennis Lane.

Except for some minor traffic charges, Planten does not have a criminal record.


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