The trial for a UC Irvine graduate student accused of shooting his ex-wife to death will focus more on his motivation than the facts of the case, lawyers for both sides said in opening statements Tuesday.
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 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, according to the district attorney's office.
As the trial began, prosecutor Matt Murphy pointed out that days before the killing, 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 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, he was suicidal," Mueller said.
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."
Murphy said he intends to finish testimony in the case by Wednesday.