OREGON CITY, Ore. – A former Gladstone police sergeant who is accused of conspiring to kill his wife was afraid he would lose his job if she turned him in for domestic abuse, prosecutors said.
Lynn Benton is charged with aggravated murder for the death of his wife, Debbie Higbee-Benton, who was found shot, beaten and strangled in her salon in May 2011.
Prosecutors said Benton conspired with his friend Susan Campbell and Campbell's son, Jason Jaynes, to commit the murder.
Campbell was to plead guilty to attempted aggravated murder in the murder-for-hire plot and agree to testify against Benton as part of a plea deal, but the state canceled it. Instead, prosecutors will rely on the testimony from a plea deal with a career criminal facing a robbery charge, who will say Lynn Benton admitted to having his wife killed.
"The decision to kill Debbie Higbee had been made long ago, the decision was Lynn Benton’s alone, she wanted Debbie Higbee dead," said Clackamas County prosecutor John Wentworth in his opening statement.
But Benton's defense team said the state's case is weak.
“Mr. Wentworth talked about evidence, I’m going to talk about reliable trustworthy evidence because they don’t have it, you won’t hear that in this case,” said defense attorney Patrick Sweeney.
Benton was born a woman, but was undergoing a gender transformation in 2011, the year the murder occurred. The trial is expected to go for a prolonged period of time, with dozens of witnesses.
KGW's Tim Gordon contributed to this story.