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Friday April 13, 2001

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Marine's family found guilty in Las Vegas in faked-death case

By The Associated Press

LAS VEGAS - Three of Marine Staff Sgt. Arthur Bennett's relatives were convicted Wednesday of conspiracy to defraud the government for collecting $300,000 in benefits after Bennett faked his death.

However, one juror blamed the Marine Corps for unwittingly helping Bennett convince his family that the government was staging his death so he could assume a new identity.

"If there was a way for us to convict the Marines of being stupid, we should have," said juror Dan Zook, a 64-year-old Air Force veteran. "But we couldn't do that."

Ellen Bennett, 69, and her son, Scott Bennett, 41, showed no reaction to Wednesday's verdict. David Bennett, 43, repeatedly shook his head and later vowed to appeal.

"We're paying for the Marine Corps' guilt, and I totally believe that," he said.

Bennett lived five years after faking his death in February 1994. In July 1999, at age 45, he hanged himself in jail while facing murder and other charges in Nevada.

Three months earlier, Bennett, his mother, two brothers and ex-wife had been indicted on the federal charges of conspiracy to defraud.

Bennett's ex-wife, Amelia Bennett, pleaded guilty last December to concealing her knowledge of a felony without admitting she participated in it. She is due for sentencing by U.S. District Judge Philip Pro on May 23.

Pro on Wednesday scheduled sentencing Aug. 17 for Ellen Bennett, David Bennett and Scott Bennett.

None testified during the two-week trial.

Defense lawyers blamed the Marine Corps for a series of blunders that they said helped Bennett dupe his family into believing he was a covert operative and the government orchestrated his disappearance.

Prosecutors said the defendants' assertions were a smoke screen and urged the jury to follow the money trail.

Zook said jurors were swayed by the family's failure to report the benefits windfall after Arthur Bennett's arrest in Utah in 1997.

He said the jury also spent significant time focusing on the government's role in the case.

The juror said the military should have prosecuted Arthur Bennett after he was accused of sexual misconduct on a base in Okinawa, Japan. Instead, Bennett was transferred to a base in Yuma, Ariz.

In Yuma, Bennett was charged with raping the 13-year-old daughter of another Marine.

Despite the pending criminal case, he was granted leave. That's when a charred body was found in his burned-out trailer in the Nevada desert east of Las Vegas near Lake Mead.

Defense lawyers argued that the military identified the body as Bennett's and buried the remains with full military honors.

They said Bennett's family knew he faked his death in 1994, but believed him when he said military officials were staging his death to help him assume a new identity.

Defense lawyer Karen Connolly admitted Ellen Bennett received about $200,000 from her son's life insurance policy, but insisted the mother had no intent to commit fraud.

Connolly said Ellen Bennett believed the military was funneling her son money to start his new life and that his family would be killed if they revealed his secret.

The scheme unraveled in fall of 1997, after Arthur Bennett was arrested on a child molestation charge in Hurricane, Utah. He was using the name Joseph Benson.

In May 1998, he pleaded no contest to charges he sexually abused his two teen-age daughters and another girl in Hurricane

In April 1998, a Clark County grand jury indicted him on murder charges in the death of the man whose body was found in the burned-out trailer. The victim was never identified.