Crime

Man found guilty of lesser charge in UK student's shooting death

Adrian Benton looked toward the jury during opening testimony in the trial of Benton, accused of murder and other charges in the 2006 death of UK student John Mattingly IIILexington, Ky., on Monday May 16, 2011.   Photo by Pablo Alcala | Staff
Adrian Benton looked toward the jury during opening testimony in the trial of Benton, accused of murder and other charges in the 2006 death of UK student John Mattingly IIILexington, Ky., on Monday May 16, 2011. Photo by Pablo Alcala | Staff

The mother of a University of Kentucky student who was killed in 2006 took the witness stand Tuesday at the trial of a man convicted in his death. It was five years to the day since she last spoke to her son.

John Graves Mattingly III was shot in the head after robbers invaded his home on Wilson Street on May 25, 2006.

On Tuesday, a Fayette County jury found Adrian Lamont Benton, 31, guilty of complicity to second-degree manslaughter and several other charges. Raymond Larry Wright, 29, accused of bursting into Mattingly's home with Benton, pleaded guilty to murder earlier this month.

Mattingly's mother, Janet, addressed jurors before they were asked to suggest a sentence for Benton. Jurors heard hours more testimony from friends and family of Benton and Mattingly. Benton also took the stand, apologizing to the victim's family members who were in the courtroom. The jury will return Wednesday to deliberate Benton's sentence.

Jurors found Benton guilty around noon Tuesday. The verdict was for a lesser crime than complicity to murder, the charge Benton faced after Wright admitted he fired the fatal shot. Both originally were charged with murder.

Benton also was found guilty of complicity to robbery, two counts of first-degree robbery, second-degree assault, second-degree wanton endangerment and first-degree wanton endangerment. He was acquitted of tampering with physical evidence.

Janet Mattingly told of the "roller coaster" the family endured while waiting five years for the trial. She said life changed for the large and close-knit family as it searched for a "new normal" after her son's death.

She said her son was a talented, smart man who never quite figured out what he wanted to do with his life. The 23-year-old was a fifth-year senior at UK studying English education, she said.

Family and friends said they avoided the area where he was shot and avoided going back to the house where he lived, which was owned by his parents.

Jeff Proctor, a friend of James Mattingly III, told jurors he has suffered anxiety attacks since the shooting and won't drive past Wilson Street for fear it might trigger a panic attack.

The family did not return to the house for a year and a half, until a pastor called and asked to buy it for his church.

"All John's things were still in it," Janet Mattingly said.

Benton's mother, Patricia Benton, also took the stand, telling jurors about difficulties her son had in school as a child and lamenting that she never realized he might be disabled — attorneys have said Benton, known as "Poodie" to friends and family, might be mentally handicapped. Adrian Benton bonded instantly with anyone who was "good to him or kind to him," his mother said, and he was always trying to impress other people to fit in.

Benton's family asked the jury to have mercy. He is a good person who made bad decisions, they said.

The family also said Benton's addiction to crack cocaine changed him from a devoted family man and loving father to a man who had multiple run-ins with police. Before the shooting, Benton started hanging out with "the wrong people" and frequently would be gone for days at a time. He would run errands, such as going to buy cigarettes for drug dealers, in exchange for small rocks of crack, they said.

"He had a sickness," said his sister, Kalania Benton.

The jury is to return at 9 a.m. Tuesday. Fayette Circuit Judge Thomas Clark said jurors would be asked to consider that Benton also is charged with being a persistent felony offender.

If he is found guilty of being a persistent felony offender, penalties for each crime could double. For example, complicity to second-degree manslaughter carries a penalty of five to 10 years, but Benton could be sentenced to 10 to 20 years if found to be a persistent felony offender, attorneys told the jury. He faces 20 years to life in prison on the robbery charges if found guilty of being a persistent felony offender.

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