When a telephone call came for Steve Bennett on the afternoon of July 4, 1985, his daughter, Whitney, opened her bedroom window to summon her father, who was outside watering the front yard. Then she forgot to lock her window.
It was through that window, about 12 hours later, that Night Stalker suspect Richard Ramirez allegedly entered the Bennetts’ remote Sierra Madre home and severely beat Whitney Bennett with a tire iron before making off with her jewelry, leaving a bloody shoe print behind in her ransacked bedroom.
As the victim, now 20, testified tearfully in Los Angeles Superior Court on Tuesday, Ramirez casually flipped through photographs of bloody crime scenes assembled in a black loose-leaf notebook.
Later in the day, Judge Michael A. Tynan dismissed a juror after she reported to him that she recognized Steve Bennett as a fellow Southern California Gas Co. employee.
Maria Santos, a financial analyst, told Tynan that she does not know Bennett personally and therefore had not recognized his name on a list of potential witnesses in the case. It was only after Bennett had taken the witness stand that she recognized him.
Santos was replaced by one of the 12 alternate jurors in the case, whose name was picked at random by court clerk Josephine Williams.
Whitney Bennett testified that on the night before the predawn attack, she had visited friends in La Canada and in La Crescenta. She said she noticed nothing unusual upon returning home shortly before 1 a.m.
She changed into her nightgown and eventually fell asleep on her bed, with a light on. Her parents, having entertained friends at home that night, had already retired.
The next thing she remembered was waking up with a terrible headache in her darkened bedroom, which had been ransacked. The telephone cord had been cut.
She screamed for her parents, made her way to the hallway and sank to the floor as her father came to her assistance.
She had been severely beaten with a tire iron that was left behind on the bedroom floor and, according to an earlier statement by co-prosecutor Phil Halpin, her assailant apparently had tried to strangle her, judging from marks on her throat.
Hallmark of Attacks
Whitney Bennett also testified that she has since undergone cosmetic surgery as a result of her head and face injuries. Her jewelry has never been recovered. She wept as Halpin showed her color photographs of the crime scene.
Among them was a picture showing that the screen of her first-floor bedroom window had been removed. According to Halpin, a Los Angeles deputy district attorney, entry through an unlocked window was a hallmark of many of the Night Stalker residential attacks.
Police detectives later found a bloody shoe print on Bennett’s comforter. The distinctive print, Halpin told the jury and 12 alternates in his Jan. 30 opening statement, also turned up at many other Night Stalker crime scenes.
One such bloody shoe print was found on the left cheek of Joyce L. Nelson, a Monterey Park woman who was found beaten and strangled in her home two days after the Bennett incident.
Ramirez, 29, is on trial for 13 murders in Los Angeles County. The self-proclaimed devil worshiper from El Paso also faces 30 other felony counts stemming from the series of nighttime attacks in 1984 and 1985. He faces a 14th murder charge in San Francisco and attempted murder and sexual assault charges in Orange County.