COVINGTON - Franklin Benson took the witness stand during his murder trial Friday and provided new details surrounding the slaying of his girlfriend in 2007 while maintaining he had nothing to do with her death.
Benson testified for three and a half hours and admitted that he lied to police during interviews at that time when his girlfriend, Leslyan Williams, was reported missing. She was later identified as being a murder victim after her severed hands, feet, arms and legs were discovered in rural Newton County on Oct. 30, 2007.
Benson, 48, faces charges of murder, removal of a body from a scene of death or dismemberment and concealing the death of another in connection with the slaying of Williams. Investigators searched the property where the body parts were found twice, but could not locate Williams head and torso.
Benson told investigators that Williams had decided to drive alone to Michigan on Oct. 29, 2007, and he last spoke to her when she called to tell him she had a flat tire in Chattanooga, Tenn.
Investigators countered that story with video obtained from a Chattanooga motel's security camera that showed Benson's Chevy Suburban towing Williams' Camry into the parking lot.
Benson admitted Friday he did tow Williams' car to Chattanooga. He said Williams woke up at about 4 a.m. that day to make some drug deliveries in Atlanta with a woman named "Shondra." Benson said Williams called him later to say she had a flat tire on Memorial Drive and wanted him to come fix the tire.
A large amount of powdery material was found by police in Williams' house on South Hairston Road and drug paraphernalia in her car. Benson told police and testified Friday that he knew Williams was involved with drugs.
Prosecutors contend Benson planted the material in the house and car. The powdery substance from the house was tested by police and was determined not to be cocaine.
Benson said when he got to Williams and fixed the tire, she asked him to drive her car to Tennessee. He first refused, then agreed to tow the car since he already had a tow dolly attached to his Suburban.
Benson testified that he towed the car to Chattanooga that morning, then drove back to Decatur and went to work.
Asked by his own attorney why he lied, Benson said he was scared that he would become entangled with Williams' drug activity.
"I lied about everything from Sunday to that morning," he said. "If it would have been easier, if I had known it would make everything better, I wouldn't have done that."
Benson denied he killed Williams in response to direct questions from his attorney. He also said he had no idea where Williams' head and torso were.
In cross examination, Assistant District Attorney Layla Zon asked Benson about his marriage to Veronica Perry at the same time he was romantically involved with Williams and another woman, Brenda Harrison, who had invested $100,000 into Benson's automotive repair business.
Williams had loaned money to Benson in 2007, and prosecutors said she was demanding him to sign a promissory note for a loan during a domestic dispute that DeKalb Police responded to on Oct. 28.
Zon also asked about an attempt by someone to charge $7,500 on Williams' debit card that night. The transaction was denied because the amount was above the limit set by the bank. Benson responded to the question by saying that after the argument on Oct. 28, he drove Williams' car to his shop to get it ready for her trip to Michigan. He said she stopped by and had attempted to swipe her debit card for the transaction.
Testimony then turned to "Shondra," the woman with a Jamaican accent who Benson said was Williams partner in illegal drugs.
Zon pointed out that Benson was the only person among all who were interviewed by police to talk about Williams' drug business and of Shondra.
"So, this girl is out there?" Zon asked.
"Yes," Benson said.
"You know she was the one who was last seen with Leslyan. If you didn't kill Leslyan, this person would be the key, or at least, an important person, to help find out who killed her, and yet you gave police not one iota of information on locating her," Zon said in her cross examination of Benson.
Benson said he had given information to police and disputed text of past interviews Zon presented. He continued to say he was scared at the time and lied to avoid being connected with drugs.
"This is what I'm getting from you in your testimony, and tell me if I'm wrong," Zon said. "The worst thing that we can say about you is that you're very selfish in being interested in saving your own butt more than in helping police in finding out who cut up someone you said you cared about."
Closing arguments will begin at 9 a.m. today, followed by jury deliberations.