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Dismemberment case: No bond for man

COVINGTON - The man who authorities say killed his girlfriend and then dumped parts of her dismembered body in a wooded area off Ga. Highway 212 in late October was denied bond at a hearing held Thursday in Newton County Superior Court.

The suspect, Franklin Elliot Benson, 47, of Atlanta was arrested and charged with murder, concealing the death of another and unlawfully removing a human body from scene of death last month in connection with the slaying of 49-year-old Leslyan Williams.

In opposing bond for the defendant, Assistant District Attorney Layla Hinton told Judge Horace Johnson Jr. that Benson posed a risk of intimidating other witnesses, saying he had repeatedly lied to investigators and tried to influence witnesses in the case.

Hinton also said she believed Benson could jeopardize the case by destroying evidence and that he posed the risk of committing future felonies. She also indicated the suspect had no significant ties to Newton County.

Assistant Public Defender Teri Smith, who represented Benson at the hearing, said her client would continue to reside at his mother's residence in Atlanta should he be released from jail and that he hadn't had a criminal conviction in the past 20 years.

According to Hinton, Benson has had convictions in the past for forgery and arson.

"We would ask for a reasonable bond," Smith said.

Johnson was not swayed, however, and denied Benson's request for bond.

After the ruling, Hinton said the death penalty is still a "viable option" and that there are no questions as it pertains to the venue where Benson's case should be heard, but she added the investigation is still ongoing.

Authorities haven't indicated where they believe the suspect killed the victim, nor where he dismembered her body.

Thus far, authorities have recovered all of Williams' body with the exception of her head and torso.

Williams' family members from Michigan told authorities they last heard from her Oct. 28, two days before a resident found her dogs fighting over the victim's foot during the early morning hours.

Hinton told the court Thursday that Benson was the last person to have contact with the victim and that police officers responded to the couple's home just prior to when they believe he committed the slaying.

Investigators were able to connect Benson to the area where parts of Williams' body were found after discovering he held a quitclaim deed on the property.

According to a Web site, a quitclaim deed is a legal document that helps to transfer a share of interest in a piece of property to another individual. The person giving away the interest is the grantor, while the one who is accepts it is the grantee.

Authorities said that in this case, Benson was the grantee of the deed.

Though Benson is the co-owner of a couple of metro area businesses, Newton County Public Defender Anthony Carter said that his office is representing him in the case.

Carter said he hasn't seen anything that shows Benson has equity in the businesses he owns. The public defender did indicate, however, that he has subpoenaed Benson's financial records to ensure that he qualifies for indigent defense.

"Each defendant fills out a sworn statement regarding his or her income, assets and debt. The public defender's office uses a formula based upon these factors to determine whether the person is indigent and qualifies for our services," Carter said in a prepared statement.

"If there is any question about a person's indigent status, the circuit public defender is authorized to make appropriate inquiries. After reviewing the information available at this time, it appears that Franklin Benson qualifies for our services."

Joel Griffin can be reached at joel.griffin@newtoncitizen.com.