Local News

Suspect's Family: Drew Planten Already Convicted By Public Opinion

Posted November 27, 2005 3:07 a.m. EST
Updated December 10, 2006 8:08 a.m. EST

— Family members of a man accused of killing a 23-year-old woman in her North Raleigh apartment more than three years ago say he has already been convicted by public opinion, and unfairly so.

"He's an easy target," said Duane Planten. "It seems like the media and the public wants to have a boogey man to go after, and he's an easy target."

Duane Planten and his mother, Sarah Chandler, were in Raleigh over the holiday weekend packing up the personal belongings of their brother and son, Drew Planten, 35, who was arrested Oct. 19 and charged in the May 2002 death of Stephanie Bennett, who was found raped and strangled in her apartment.

After Raleigh police arrested Planten outside the state laboratory where he worked, authorities said he became unresponsive, refusing to talk or even stand. During his first arraignment on Oct. 20, deputies had to wheel Planten into the courtroom, restrained in a wheelchair to keep him in an upright position.

"Well, I guess he was in shock," said Planten's mother, Sarah Chandler, an attorney in Michigan. "He wasn't talking to anybody. He was in shock of being arrested. That would be my explanation for that."

Family members explain that shutting down is a defense mechanism that Planten learned as a child growing up with a physically and emotionally abusive father.

"With the abuse of my father and getting picked on in school, he felt he didn't have anything to contribute to people in a conversation," Duane Planten said. "So, rather than bother people, he withdrew."

In an interview with WRAL after her son's arrest, Chandler described her son as a "good person" and "upstanding citizen." Family members said that Planten is rarely portrayed as they see him -- "a regular guy from a regular family."

"He didn't have a real social life," Chandler said Saturday. "He was quiet and stuck with the family, but that doesn't make him guilty of anything."

Raleigh police investigators seized more than 350 items from Planten's apartment on Buck Jones Road, including guns, knives, ammunition and X-rated materials.

"It doesn't make me doubt," Chandler said. "It's shocking to me. I didn't know he had firearms, for instance, but people collect firearms. It's something a lot of people collect."

Prosecutor Susan Spurlin also said that detectives found a laundry basket that belonged to Bennett at Planten's apartment. Investigators said DNA evidence also links Planten to the crime scene.

Sources have also said that a gun found at the apartment was linked to the 1999 death of a young Lansing, Mich., woman, Rebecca Huismann, but Michigan authorities have not yet decided whether to charge Planten in that case.

Despite the evidence authorities said they have against Planten, his family maintains his innocence. Planten's lawyer has also said that his client has said he is innocent.

"It's difficult," Duane Planten said. "Someone you care about -- life doesn't prepare you for it. All you can do is get up every morning, breathe in and out, and pray."

Neither Planten nor Chandler had been in contact with Drew Planten while in Raleigh.