Accused murderer will plead not guilty

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 3, 2004

The court-appointed attorney for a man accused of killing two Uniontown men said his client will enter a not-guilty plea upon arraignment.

George Jones III, a Selma attorney, has been appointed to represent Charlie Bennett, who is accused of murdering Lawrence Alvin Smith and Kenneth Dixie.

“Everything is being tried in the media right now, and I’m anxious to get it out of the media and into the court of law,” Jones said Friday.

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Bennett’s case has grabbed statewide headlines because of the numerous mistakes surrounding the early prison release of the accused.

In May 2002, Bennett was arrested for the robbery of Robertson Banking Company in Thomaston. He pleaded guilty to an assault and robbery charge, and was mistakenly placed into state custody to serve a four-year prison sentence for the assault.

After that sentence expired, Bennett then was to be transferred to a federal prison in Mobile to complete an eight-year sentence for the robbery.

Somewhere along the way, papers ordering that Bennett be transferred to Mobile never made it from Marengo County to Kilby State Prison in Montgomery, and on May 1, 2004, Bennett was set free.

On June 19, just 49 days after his early release, Bennett turned himself in to Uniontown Police after hearing that he was wanted in connection with the murders of Smith and Dixie.

Jones has met with his new client once already, and said Bennett’s state of mind is hard to describe.

“He’s doing about as well as he can right now,” Jones said. “He doesn’t have any family in this area, so that makes it even harder for him. He doesn’t have much support.”

Bennett is being charged with capital murder, which could result in death by lethal injection if convicted. Meanwhile, there may be a question as to where Bennett will be detained until he stands trial on the murder charges.

Fourth Judicial Circuit District Attorney Ed Greene indicated Bennett may be placed back in federal custody to continue serving the eight-year sentence for bank robbery until his trial for the Uniontown homicides.

Jones said he will fight any such move as vigorously as possible.

“That would be a logistical nightmare,” Jones said. “It doesn’t make good judicial sense to take [Bennett] out of state custody right now.”

Because of the pending capital murder charges, Jones said a decision to place Bennett in federal custody would result in transportation to a maximum security facility.

“The closest ones to us are in Atlanta or Marion, Ohio,” Jones said. “That’s where they send the badest of the bad.”

If Bennett were moved to Atlanta or Ohio, Jones said the state would have to pay for every trip made to see his client.

“It is absolutely critical that I be able to meet with my client,” Jones said. “This guy is facing capital murder charges and the state is trying to take his life. As his attorney, I must be able to consult with my client, and if they sent him to Atlanta or Marion, Ohio, they’d have to pay for every one of my trips.”

Jim Copeland, a spokesman for the U.S. Marshals in Mobile, said he’s not sure the federal government will pursue having Bennett sent back into federal custody.

“There is a detainer order out for him, but I can’t answer that question,” Copeland said.

Rather, he deferred questions to the U.S. Attorney’s office in Mobile.

David York, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District in Mobile, did not immediately return calls placed to his office on Friday.