A detective for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Homicide Bureau said he will pursue a felony manslaughter charge against Chris Benton for his involvement in the death of Katie Wilkins, a 25-yearold Malibu resident who died last April of a heroin overdose.
Det. Tim O’Quinn plans on recommending to the county district attorney that Benton, the son of Pepperdine University President Andrew K. Benton, be charged with involuntary manslaughter and taking a vehicle without an owner’s consent. Both are felony counts.
Benton’s former attorney, Ronald J. Lewis, said the potential charges are unlikely to be successful.
Wilkins’ body was found April 28 in the garage of her parents’ home in the hills above Las Flores Canyon in Malibu. Her car was missing and did not turn up until almost two weeks later in a Woodland Hills neighborhood.
Authorities believe Benton was the last person to have seen Wilkins alive. Surveillance footage showed Wilkins picking up Benton in her car at the McDonald’s restaurant on Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu hours before her death.
“From Chris’ own narcotics history, he absolutely knew what the end result was most likely to be when he left Katie incapacitated and alone on the garage floor, with a telephone only a few feet away. In my opinion, this is where Chris became criminally culpable for Katie’s death,” O’Quinn wrote in a statement to the Wilkins family recently.
On Monday, O’Quinn told The Malibu Times he had yet to present his recommendations to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office, but planned on doing so as early as this week.
Benton is currently serving a two-year prison sentence for threatening his parents on the Pepperdine campus last August and possessing a loaded firearm registered to his father.
Chris Benton has a troubled drug history and prior felony conviction for possession of a controlled substance in 2009, as well as previous arrests for grand theft of a person felony possession of marijuana with intent to sell.
In August 2012, O’Quinn said forming a case against Benton in the Wilkins incident would be impossible unless there was evidence showing Benton had administered a deadly heroin dose to Katie Wilkins.
“Unless we can prove he administered the lethal dose of heroin, we don’t have a case,” O’Quinn said at the time.
But that seems to have changed in light of his recent statements. When asked this week whether he had discovered evidence to show Benton had administered the lethal drug dose, O’Quinn said he had not, but that recent case law showed a person present during a heroin overdose could be held responsible for a person’s death.
“These cases clearly define what circumstances are necessary for someone to be held criminally responsible for the heroin overdose death of another. And these circumstances do not necessarily require that the person had provided the narcotics or personally injected the victim,” O’Quinn wrote to the Wilkins family.
O’Quinn said he did not wish to elaborate on what case law he was referring to in his recommendation before the DA looks over the case.
Ronald J. Lewis, who represented Chris Benton after his arrest in August, is skeptical about O’Quinn’s claims.
“Factually, there’s nothing new to this case,” Lewis said. “Both these kids were drug addicts. I don’t care how they want to try and rewrite history... Chris had an ongoing drug problem. People who have heroin addiction problems don’t just quit and then everything’s fine. It’s a monkey they always carry on their back.”
O’Quinn said he “just [presents] the facts” and the ultimate decision will be up to the district attorney’s office.
“There’s no doubt [the Wilkins family] would like to see justice served, whatever that may be,” O’Quinn said. “There’s a consensus of public opinion that Chris should not have abandoned Kate in the garage and left her.”
When asked for comment on this story, Pepperdine said Andrew Benton would not speak publicly on the case.
“This is a personal, family matter and the Bentons have decided that they are no longer commenting on this topic,” a university spokesman told The Malibu Times.
Rob Wilkins, the father of Katie Wilkins, said any charges being pressed against Chris Benton would not provide closure for the loss of his daughter, but he said the case could serve as a lesson for other lethal drug situations.
“We’re concerned with other people who this might happen to in the future if somebody is in a narcotics overdose situation,” Wilkins told The Malibu Times. “We think Katie could still be here alive if Chris had done the right thing and called for help.”