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Benge to serve 11 years for homicide
Jerry Benge, the man who instigated the 2005 murder of a rural Ceres man, was sentenced Friday to 11 years in state prison.

A Stanislaus County Superior Court jury found the 49-year-old Turlock man guilty of manslaughter for prompting his nephew, Sean Benge, also of Turlock, to enter the Crows Landing Road residence of Steven Brown, 45, on Jan. 4, 2005 and attack him and ultimately shoot him. Brown's lifeless bloody body was found by his 12-year-old daughter when she came home from school.

Benge was eligible for a sentence ranging from three to 11 years. But Stanislaus County Superior Court Judge Scott T. Steffen imposed the maximum sentence, saying Benge planned to have Sean Benge beat up or kill Brown. The judge said Benge's role was not sophisticated but was nonetheless planned.

Sean Benge, 30, who was convicted last fall of carrying out the actual attack, was convicted of first-degree murder with a special circumstance, lying in wait, which requires a life sentence without the possibility of parole. His sentencing is expected March 24.

Members of Brown's family had a chance Friday to weigh in on the fate of Jerry Benge. Brown's brother, Charlie Brown of Keyes, mentioned how Benge offered assistance to Brown's widow in picking out a casket.

During the trial, prosecutors asserted that Jerry Benge, a married man, wanted to get rid of Steven Brown in order to romantically pursue his wife, Katherine Brown. 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.

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

During the trial, Jerry Benge's attorney, Bob Wildman, claimed that his client didn't know that his nephew was intending to kill Mr. 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.

Charlie Brown asserts that Jerry Benge plotted the murder of his brother. "They straight up planned on killing him. They sawed the barrels of the gun off at Jerry's house. Jerry bought the gun. Jerry knew exactly what he was going to do."

He accused Jerry Benge of arranging the murder on the day he would be attending to a dentist appointment.

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 stated that the two had only inappropriately got 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.

Sean Benge told investigators that Jerry claimed that Steven Brown was beating his wife and that she suffered a miscarriage. Jerry also claimed 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 impregnated by Benge.

Prosecutors said 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 showered her with verbal affection, saying "I love you very much forever and ever. I hope you know that."

While Jerry 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."

Family members said in court that Jerry Benge used his friendship to wile his way closer to Mrs. Brown. He often helped out Steven Brown Jr. with a Future Farmers of America project.