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Relationship was the catalyst for Brown murder, jurors are told
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Jurors heard evidence last week that an illicit relationship was the catalyst for the murder of a Ceres man in 2005.

Jerry Michael Benge, 48, and Sean Benje, 30, are accused of the Jan. 4, 2005 murder of Ceres resident Steven Glenn Brown. Both men are being tried for first-degree murder even though Sean Benge was identified as the man who fatally shot Brown. The 45-year-old Ceres High graduate was murdered inside his rural Ceres home in the 6900 block of Crows Landing Road.

Prosecutors say that Jerry Benge had a relationship with the victim's wife, Katherine Brown. Jerry Benge was Brown's cousin. Katherine was quizzed on Tuesday last week about the extent of her relationship with the defendant and said that Benge and her agreed that their relationship was growing too close. She stated that the two started twice to have sex but did not follow through. Brown testified that at no time did she or Benge talk about leaving their spouses to be together.

The relationship started in 2003 when Benge started helping Brown's son with a 4-H swine. Benge later moved his animals to the Brown farm and visited daily. The two also saw each other at 4-H events.

Steve Brown, she told the court, disliked Benge coming around so much.

The relationship spilled over into Katherine Brown's workplace. Benge came to Brown's place of employment several times a week to visit with her, said her former boss, Deborah Viera. She also noted that the pair had lots of telephone contact during the business day. Brown told her boss that they weren't having an affair, but she did ask that the encounters be kept from her husband.

The Browns had a rocky marriage, testified Viera, and at one time he moved out for a few days. He returned when they reconciled.

Detectives believe that Jerry Benge enlisted the help of his nephew to "get rid of" Steven Brown or cause him serious injury. Detectives say that Sean Benge broke into the Brown residence and waited until he arrived home from work. When Brown walked into the house he was attacked and shot by the nephew, they said.

Witnesses saw the suspect leaving the Brown residence on a red motorcycle.

On Thursday the jurors heard a tape made when Katherine Brown agreed to be wired for two conversations with Jerry Benge. On the tape Jerry Benge elludes to having sex with Katherine "a few times." Jurors also heard Benge shower her with verbal affection, saying "I love you very much forever and ever. I hope you know that."

While Benge denied that he and his nephew had anything to do with the murder, his statements seemed contradictory. He suggested that the "two guys who were involved in this, they're not breathing no more."

A double jury was seated for the trials, a first in Stanislaus County. A double jury allows witnesses to testify just once then to repeat it in a second trial.

The trial is predicted to last as long as six to eight weeks.