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Benge guilty
The 2005 slaying of Ceres resident Steven Glenn Brown was carried out by Sean Benge, a Stanislaus County jury decided on Friday.

The guilty verdict against the 30-year-old Turlock man was one half of a double-trial which two separate juries heard evidence in one courtroom. Another jury is deciding the fate of Benge's uncle, Jerry Benge, 49, who allegedly ordered the attack. Prosecutors presented a case that Jerry Benge wanted to get rid of Brown because he was romantically pursuing Brown's wife, Katherine Brown.

Steven Brown, a 45-year-old Ceres High graduate, was fatally shot inside his rural Ceres home in the 6900 block of Crows Landing Road on Jan. 4, 2005. There was evidence of a struggle before the shooting. Brown's body was discovered when his 12-year-old daughter came home from school that day.

The jury found Benge guilty of lying in wait during the murder, a special circumstance that could net Benge a life sentence without the possibility of parole. When sentenced on Jan. 9, Benge could see an additional 25 years to life for the personal use of a firearm.

During the trial, Benge's public defender, Maureen Keller, suggested that her client was guilty of attacking Brown for the intent of roughing him up, but that things got ugly. She urged the jury to explore the voluntary manslaughter charge as it carried a lesser sentence. Keller suggested that Sean Benge was vulnerable because of a sense of loyalty and obligation to his uncle and his weakened state of drug addiction.

During the trial, Jerry Benge's attorney, Bob Wildman, agreed that his client was known as an exaggerator but he didn't know that his nephew was intending to kill Brown. Benge, said Wildman, told his nephew not to take a gun. He said evidence of a fight was proof that Sean did not plan to kill Stephen initially and only shot him in a panic. Wildman's theory was that Sean Benge shot Brown when Brown intended to go fetch a gun to protect himself.

But Carolyn Matzger, deputy district attorney, said there was an intent to kill because Sean Benge was practicing with a shotgun before the attack.

The trial focussed on motives and the relationship between Jerry Benge and Katherine Brown. Benge said the two twice had sex - something she denied in court. However, Mrs. Brown said that the two were getting inappropriately intimate; that the two started twice to have sex in a car but did not follow through. Brown testified that at no time did she or Benge talk about leaving their spouses to be together.

Following the murder, Sean Benge told investigators that Jerry claimed that Steven Brown was beating his wife and that she suffered a miscarriage. Jerry stated that it was his baby, but the claim was never proven. Katherine Brown denied she was beaten by her husband and denied that she was ever pregnant by Benge.

Prosecutors said in court that Jerry Benge either wanted Brown gone so he would have free access to Katherine or that he wanted Brown beaten up for allegedly abusing Katherine.

Jurors viewed recordings of Jerry Benge talking to investigators in which he denied any role in the killing. He also backpeddled from the assertion that he was in love with Mrs. Brown - something that was refuted in a secretly-made audio recording between him and Katherine. On the tape Jerry elludes to having sex with Katherine "a few times" and showered her with verbal affection, saying "I love you very much forever and ever. I hope you know that."

While Benge denied knowing anything about the murder, his statements seemed contradictory. He suggested to Brown on tape that the "two guys who were involved in this - they're not breathing no more."