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State v. Benson

Superior Court of Delaware, New Castle

June 1, 2015

STATE OF DELAWARE.
v.
DOMINIQUE BENSON, CHRISTOPHER RIVERS, Defendants.

Submitted: March 10, 2015

Steven P. Wood, Esquire, Colleen K. Norris, Esquire, Karin M. Volker, Esquire and Jenna R. Milecki, Deputy Attorneys General. Wilmington, Delaware. Attorneys for the State of Delaware.

Patrick J. Collins, Esquire and Albert J. Roop, V, Esquire, Wilmington, Delaware. Attorneys for Dominique Benson.

Brian J. Chapman, Esquire and John A. Barber, Esquire, Wilmington, Delaware. Attorneys for Christopher Rivers.

OPINION

CHARLES E. BUTLER, JUDGE

INTRODUCTION

Defendants, Christopher Rivers and Dominique Benson, have been charged with Murder First Degree and other offenses in connection with the shooting deaths of Joseph and Olga Connell. The defendants are scheduled to be tried together during a joint capital murder trial that is estimated to last approximately eight weeks. The defendants have both filed motions to sever defendants. Because the defendants have failed to show that a joint trial will result in any reasonable probability of substantial injustice or unfair prejudice, their motions must be denied.

FACTS

On September 22, 2013, police responded to the condominium residences at Paladin Club in North Wilmington after multiple reports of shots fired. Upon arrival, officers found Joseph and Olga Connell, suffering from multiple gunshot wounds. Both victims died that same day.

The State intends to prove that defendant Rivers engaged a middleman, Joshua Bey, to hire one or more people to kill his business partner, Joseph Connell and his wife. It is alleged that Rivers wanted Mr. Connell killed so that Rivers could collect on a life insurance policy that named Rivers as the beneficiary. The State alleges that Joshua Bey, acting on behalf of Mr. Rivers, hired Dominique Benson and an "unnamed coconspirator" to carry out the murder.

Joshua Bey has become a cooperating witness for the State. Mr. Bey is expected to testify that Rivers wanted Joseph Connell killed, and that Bey recruited defendant Benson who, along with an "unnamed coconspirator, " eventually carried out the murder. The evidence indicates that the only time Rivers had any direct contact with Benson was when Bey set up a brief meeting in a parked car outside of the business that Rivers and Joseph Connell owned together. According to Bey, Benson and an "unnamed coconspirator" eventually carried out the killings. Although Bey was initially charged in this case, he has since pled guilty to Conspiracy First Degree, and has agreed to testify against Rivers and Benson.

Rivers and Benson have been charged with two counts of Murder First Degree, two counts of Possession of a Firearm During the Commission of a Felony, and Conspiracy First Degree. Rivers was also charged with Criminal Solicitation First Degree. A joint trial against both defendants is scheduled to start in September 2015. The defendants have both filed motions to sever, each arguing that a joint trial will result in a reasonable probability of substantial injustice and unfair prejudice.

ANALYSIS

Pursuant to Superior Court Criminal Rule 8(b), two or more defendants may be joined in a joint trial if "they are alleged to have participated in the same act or transaction or in the same series of acts or transactions constituting an offense or offenses."[1] "Normally, judicial economy dictates that the State should jointly try defendants indicted for the same crime or crimes. But, if the defendants can show a reasonable and not hypothetical ...


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