Originally convicted in 2009 of the murder and dismemberment of his one-time girlfriend 49-year-old Leslyan Williams, Franklin Elliott Benson, 53, recently requested a new trial for the fourth time, once again citing ineffective legal counsel.
His previous three motions for a new trial have been denied, and the process of repeatedly dealing with such motions is a frustrating and costly one for local court officials.
District Attorney Layla Zon said there is no cap on how many times a defendant can request a new trial, and a Newton County Clerk of Courts employee said when a motion for a new trial comes in to the office, employees are required to file them and then share the motions with the judge, district attorney and the defendant's attorney, if the defense attorney is on file.
The judge is essentially required to hear every new motion though judges do have discretion on how many times they have to hear the same motion.
Benson's fourth motion for a new trial, heard Nov. 29, accuses Benson's trial attorneys of failing to object to the partial courtroom closure during voir dire (the preliminary examination of prospective jurors).
According to law, to prevail on a claim of ineffective assistance of council, the defendant must show that counsel's performance was deficient and that the deficiency prejudiced the defense, a claim that Chief Assistant District Attorney Anne Kurtz refuted in her reply to Benson's motion, saying that Benson had failed to demonstrate any harm resulting from the partial courtroom closure.
Benson first requested a new trial in 2010, citing ineffective assistance of counsel and inefficiency of evidence.
In a pre-trial hearing where he sought a new trial, Benson's first attorneys were questioned by his new attorney about their defense tactics. One specific issue was about a witness who had declined to come to the first trial, a maintenance man at a hotel where the victim's car was found and where video surveillance of Benson dropping it off was taken. The judge ruled against the request for a new trial, and in favor of the state which has argued that Benson's initial defense attorneys did their job properly.
Since then attorneys for Benson have amended their request for a new trial three more times. The second motion cited the same reasons as the first, that there was insufficient evidence to convict him of the crimes he was accused, his defense attorneys failed to secure testimony from a "key defense witness" and that defense attorneys failed to "raise alibi evidence corresponding to the time of death presented by the state." The judge ruled against this request as well.
In the third request for a new trial Benson's attorneys cited ineffective counsel once again, this time saying that friends and family of Benson were "improperly excluded from selection" of jurors. The judge ruled against this request.
Each time, Benson has slightly amended his reasons for asking for a new trial. Newton County Superior Court Judge Horace J. Johnson, Jr. has not yet ruled on this latest motion.
During his first trial in 2009, a jury convicted Benson of murder, concealing the death of another and removal of body parts from scene of death or dismemberment, and Judge Johnson sentenced him to life in prison plus 11 years.