Benson enters not guilty plea in shooting

Benson enters not guilty plea in shooting

March 21st, 2012 by Mike O'Neal in Catoosa

The 59-year-old Chattanooga resident charged with fatally shooting two women in a waiting room at Erlanger at Hutcheson hospital entered a plea of not guilty last week in Walker County Superior Court.

Authorities claim James Benson shot his estranged wife, Mary Sue Benson, 56, and her mother, Charlotte Johnson, 77, in the hospital's intensive care waiting room on the night of Jan. 6.

Herbert "Buzz" Franklin, district attorney for the Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit, declared in court March 14 his office will not be seeking the death penalty in the case.

Benson is charged with 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.

During Benson's arraignment last week, his court-appointed attorney, Jad Johnson of the public defender's office, entered a plea of not guilty to all charges.

While it is inappropriate for any attorneys involved to discuss the case, which could go to trial in May, Circuit Public Defender David Dunn offered the following remarks when asked about the judicial process and the not-guilty plea.

"I could not comment on the Benson case, since it is pending in court," he said. "I can tell you that because arraignment comes at an early stage in the court process, before discovery is exchanged regarding the evidence and motions heard by the court, a plea of not guilty at arraignment is entered in almost all cases.

"It is only after defense counsel has had an adequate opportunity to examine the evidence and issues and to consider these together with his client, that more final decisions can be made regarding the ultimate direction of any case.

"Given that people's lives and the integrity of the courts are at stake, we should do it no other way, in my opinion."