published Tuesday, March 13th, 2012

James Benson murder trial may be in May

A Chattanooga man charged with unloading his revolver into his estranged wife and mother-in-law in an Erlanger at Hutcheson waiting room could go before a jury in May.

But prosecutors didn't return calls asking if they will pursue the death penalty against 59-year-old James Benson.

During his arraignment Tuesday morning in Walker County Superior Court, Benson pleaded not guilty to 10 charges: two counts of malice murder, two counts of felony murder, two counts of aggravated assault and four counts of possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime.

Benson's case will be placed on the court calendar for May 14, when he will go before a judge who will decide if he is ready to stand trial later in May, clerk officials said.

Benson's attorney, Jad Johnson, wasn't available to comment on the case.

Police say that, on Jan. 6, Benson shot his wife, 56-year-old Mary Sue Benson, and her 77-year-old mother, Charlotte Johnson, with his .38-caliber revolver in Hutcheson's intensive care unit waiting room.

Johnson and Mary Sue Benson were with other relatives, visiting Johnson's other daughter, Myra McCrary.

Benson left the hospital and drove to the nearby Fort Oglethorpe police station where he turned himself in, Chief David Eubanks said in January.

When Benson was indicted in February, Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit District Attorney Herbert "Buzz" Franklin said he hadn't decided if he would seek the death penalty, but he said Benson's case qualified for it.

Benson remains in Walker County Jail without bond.

about Joy Lukachick Smith...

Joy Lukachick Smith is the city government reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Since 2009, she's covered crime and court systems in North Georgia and rural Tennessee, landed an exclusive in-prison interview with a former cop convicted of killing his wife, exposed impropriety in an FBI-led, child-sex online sting and exposed corruption in government agencies. Earlier this year, Smith won the Malcolm Law Memorial Award for Investigative Reporting. She also won first place in ...

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