3.27.2010

TS - One man sentenced for Cutten man's death, other contests his plea

One man sentenced for Cutten man's death, other contests his plea

The family and friends of shooting victim Garrett Benson filled a Humboldt County courtroom Friday to witness the sentencing of one man for his death while a second defendant in the case moved to contest his plea.

Jason Leon Belles, 31, and Jonathan Henry Watson, 30, were scheduled to be sentenced after each pleaded no contest to charges related to the death of Benson during a home invasion robbery on Dec. 3, 2008.

Belles was sentenced to seven years and eight months in prison, minus time already served, with a three year parole term upon release, as agreed to in his plea deal. He will also have to pay a $1,400 restitution fine. With good behavior, he could be released in about six and a half years.

Watson initially accepted a plea deal Aug. 11 from Deputy District Attorney Max Cardoza for first-degree murder with a firearm enhancement and an agreed-upon prison term of 50 years to life. On Friday, he contested his previous plea.

According to the Humboldt County Sheriff's Office, Benson was in his Cutten home when one man forced his way into the residence. The two struggled, and Benson was shot three times and died hours later in a hospital. Officials said there was a significant amount of marijuana being grown and processed in the home.

Benson's family and his girlfriend appeared at the sentencing and spoke to the defendants and the court before the judge announced Belles' sentence.

Randy Benson, the victim's father, told the court that he and his family were devastated by the loss of his son.

”My world is changed. My beliefs aren't the same anymore ...,” he said. “I've been silenced by disgust and have been since the murder of my son Garrett.”

He fought back tears as he told the court that Garrett Benson was a “man of integrity.” He had worked in the National Guard for nine years and then with UPS for seven. He described his son as motivated, hilarious, responsible, loyal, intelligent, kind and patriotic.

Addressing Belles and Watson directly, Randy Benson said he could never forgive them, although others had advised him to try.
”My God and I will have to wrestle with this one,” he said.

Belles appeared to be visibly upset and crying while the victim's family addressed the court, often closing his eyes and looking down. Watson watched the speakers but remained expressionless.

Garrett Benson's mother described him as a caring son that was the head of his own household and also hers, often coming over to chop firewood for her and sending her bouquets of flowers when she was distressed over the death of a pet.
Garrett Benson also was a bit of a prankster.

”If you ever saw a vehicle covered in UPS Post-its, you knew Garrett had struck again,” she said.

Rachel Wold, Benson's girlfriend, also had a short statement for the court. Wold was with Benson when he was shot in their home.

”Garrett saved my life,” she said. “I sat with him and had to watch the life fade from his eyes.”

She told the defendants that she hoped one day they would understand the gravity of what they had done.
Watson is scheduled to contest his plea on Monday in a closed hearing.

Allison White can be reached at 441-0506 or awhite@times-standard.com.

Allison White/The Times-Standard
Posted: 08/22/2009 01:27:15 AM PDT