COVINGTON - At times, Franklin Benson appeared to be the prosecution's best witness Wednesday during his murder trial when taped interviews and testimony was presented showing inconsistencies in his story involving the slaying of his girlfriend.
Benson, 48, is accused of murdering 49-year-old DeKalb County resident Leslyan Williams, dismembering her body and scattering body parts on a secluded property off of Ga. Highway 212 in southern Newton County.
Court testimony Wednesday had investigators explaining why Benson became a suspect as their missing person investigation turned into a murder investigation. Prosecutors also showed cell phone records and video security camera footage that placed Benson in Chattanooga, Tenn., towing the murder
victim's car to a motel parking lot there.
Investigators said they became more suspicious of Benson after parts of the story he told them became inconsistent. DeKalb Police Detective Freddie Walker told the jury Benson mentioned Williams was involved with illegal drugs and allowed police into Williams' house on South Hairston Road where they found a scale and a large bag of a powdery white substance.
DeKalb narcotics agents later determined the powder was not cocaine. But even before the substance was tested, Walker said he was suspicious. Asked to estimate the street value of the substance if it had been cocaine, Walker said he thought it would be around $80,000.
"My first thought when I saw it? I thought it was fake," Walker said. "If she was dealing with drugs in that quantity, she just wouldn't leave it out like that."
Walker also said Benson's story changed from his initial interview at Williams' house on Nov. 6, 2007, during a taped statement at DeKalb Police headquarters the next day. Walker said Benson told him Williams had traveled to Michigan with a woman named Brenda the first time, then it was Sandra at police offices.
Walker also noted he found it hard to believe that while Benson lived with Williams he did not know much about Williams' alleged drug activity. Typically, there would be a lot of activity at the house of people coming and going, Walker said, and there were no complaints from neighbors indicating that.
Walker added that Williams did not have any prior criminal record of drug involvement.
Later in the day, Williams' best friend from Michigan, Janice Stewart, testified she contacted Benson as she tried to contact Williams. Benson first told her Williams had traveled to Michigan with a man and woman named Sandra. Stewart said Benson then later told her Williams was traveling alone.
Prosecutors also used evidence to show that Benson was not where he said he was on the last day Williams was known to be alive. He had told investigators that he last talked to Williams on Oct. 29 when she called to tell him that she had a flat tire in Chattanooga on her way to Michigan.
Investigators placed a lookout on Williams' Toyota Camry when she was reported missing on Nov. 5, 2007, and located the car in the parking lot of a Best Western Inn in Chattanooga.
Video was obtained from the motel's security cameras that showed a Chevy Suburban towing Williams' Camry into the parking lot. The video also showed a black man unhitch the car, back it into a parking space and then leave in the Suburban. Georgia Bureau of Investigation Special Agent Brian Johnston testified that the Suburban belonged to Benson and pointed him out in court.
Representatives with Sprint and Verizon were also called to explain prosecutors' tracking of Benson's and Williams' cell phones on Oct. 29 that showed signals had been received all day between Decatur and Chattanooga.
Benson's attorney, Terance Madden, attempted to ask Johnston in his cross examination about the possibility of another individual being seen driving Williams' car in Chattanooga to which Assistant District Attorney Layla objected.
After clearing the jury from the court room, Newton County Superior Court Judge Horace Johnson warned Benson about bringing new information to the jury through questioning witnesses.
Madden contended that a motel employee may have witnessed a white man driving Williams' car and that investigators may not have followed up on it.
"There's been nothing about a white male in previous testimony, and that's the problem with that question," Johnson said. "There's no evidence backing that up."
The state continues its case against Benson today with expectations to discuss Benson's interview with GBI and local investigators after his arrest.