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UCI grad student planned to kill himself, not ex-wife, jury told

UC Irvine grad student planned to kill himself, not his ex-wife, attorney says

A UC Irvine graduate student accused of fatally shooting his former wife after being ordered to make larger monthly child support payments was intent on killing himself, not his ex-wife, the man’s attorney told jurors this week.

Brian Benedict, 40, is accused of chasing Rebecca Clarke, 30, from his apartment on the UCI campus and shooting her in the face in September 2009 when she went to pick up the couple's 4-year-old son.

Public defender Bob Mueller acknowledged that Benedict, who was working on his doctorate in physics at the time, killed Clarke but argued that his actions were not premeditated.

"The fact that Brian Benedict killed her is not in dispute," he said. "What the facts mean is what this trial is all about."

Benedict has pleaded not guilty to a murder charge. The Orange County district attorney's office is seeking sentencing enhancements for the use of a firearm, murder for financial gain and lying in wait.

If convicted, Benedict's minimum sentence would be life in prison without the possibility of parole, prosecutors said.

As the trial began Tuesday, prosecutor Matt Murphy pointed out that days before the fatal shooting, a family court judge ruled that Benedict had to pay Clarke more than $900 in monthly child support instead of the $200 he sought.

Mueller, though, said the killing was not carried out to avoid paying the increased child support.

Murphy read jurors a will that Benedict wrote and left in his freezer before the shooting. The document asks relatives to take custody of the couple's son.

"Well, it didn't appear that [Clarke] was going to be around," Murphy said. A longer version of the document goes so far as to apologize to Clarke's parents, Murphy added.

But according to his lawyer, Benedict was devastated by the family court ruling, which also reduced the time he could spend with his son.

Mueller said Benedict wrote the will with the intent of killing himself.

"We're going to hear that Mr. Benedict wasn't just depressed," Mueller said. “He was suicidal.”

During testimony Tuesday, witnesses described a bloody shooting scene, with Benedict calmly leaving with his son before two men confronted him.

"I ended up hitting him," said neighbor Flavio Andrade.

Before the punch, neighbor Jesse Barrueta testified, Benedict said, "I did it. I shot her. I surrender."

jeremiah.dobruck2@latimes.com

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