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Judge Rules State Can Pursue Death Penalty Against Drew Planten

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RALEIGH, N.C. — A judge ruled Thursday that prosecutors could pursue the death penalty in the trial of a man they believe is responsible for Stephanie Bennett's death.

Police said Bennett was raped and strangled at her North Raleigh apartment in 2002. Drew Planten, a former chemist with the state Department of Agriculture who once lived near Bennett, was arrested in October 2005 and charged in connection with her death.

Prosecutor Susan Spurlin said Thursday that Bennett's death was an atrocious, heinous and criminal crime and that aggravating factors include that the homicide was committed during a rape and possibly a robbery and that Bennett's death may not be Planten's only murder charge.

Spurlin also detailed how ballistics from a gun used to kill a young woman in Lansing, Mich., in 1999 matched those of a gun found in Planten's apartment. Lansing authorities are investigating Planten in that homicide case and could make a decision to charge him within the next two weeks, Spurlin said.

If Planten is charged in Michigan, which does not have the death penalty, it is likely that he would be tried there first, allowing prosecutors to use a prior conviction as an aggravating circumstance for the death penalty in Bennett's case.

Spurlin also revealed that a laundry basket that was found in Planten's apartment by police was Bennett's

Judge Donald Stephens agreed with Spurlin that the case would be a capital case and also agreed to protect specific witness information, such as Social Security numbers, license numbers and birth dates. Under North Carolina law the state must turn over all of its evidence to the defense. Planten's attorney, Kirk Osborn, objected to any abridgment of this process.

"We're entitled to that material and to make a judgment whether or not it's relevant to the case and to investigate the matter," Osborn said.


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