The last time Leslyan Williams was heard from was Oct. 29, 2007, according to Franklin Benson when she called him with a flat tire in Tennessee. More than a week later it was her son Charles who reported her missing to DeKalb County police — not the man who witnesses say lived with her at least part time.
On the third day of the murder trial of Benson, jurors heard from a forensic pathologist from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation who performed the autopsy on Williams' body parts. Dr. Eric Eason, who was deemed an expert witness, said the total weight of the remains of Williams was just 35 lbs. What he did examine was covered in dirt, debris and ant bites as well as several contusions.
According to Eason, the cuts to Williams' limbs appeared to have been inflicted post-mortem (after death) but it was impossible to tell the age of the contusions or the cause of her death.
“We really need the head and torso to determine cause of death,” he explained.
During conversations with investigators, Benson admitted to borrowing more than $17,000 from Williams in 2007. He also told them that Williams was a drug dealer, even allowing them into her home right after she was reported missing where they found a large bag of white powder which would have had a street value of roughly $80,000 if it had been real — which it was found not to be.
Detective Freddy Walker told Chief Assistant District Attorney Layla Zon that when he saw the "drugs" he immediately thought they were fake.
"What was your impression of the whole scene?" she asked.
"It just didn’t seem right," he said.
Benson was cooperative with the detectives, however, agreeing to speak with them about Williams. The tape of that interview was played for jurors and Benson can be heard telling Walker the story about Williams heading to Michigan and getting a flat tire in Tennessee.
He told detectives that when Williams left Decatur she was alone but when she called him with news of her flat tire he could heard a woman named Sandra in the background. He also told them they had been dating on and off for eight to 10 years but only casually. He said they were friends but not exclusive.
“I have other friends,” he explained.
He also told them that after their argument which resulted in Benson calling the police on Oct. 28, he agreed to sign the promissory note and that Williams agreed to loan him an additional $7,500. Benson told Walker that he lived at Williams' home two or three days out of the week.
Employees of Sprint and Verizon both testified about cellular towers and how cell phone calls can be traced by which tower they hit off of when the call is made.
Tranz Washington, an employee of Verizon Wireless, told jurors that Williams' cell phone first began registering calls at 5:54 a.m., the again at 5:56 a.m., another call one minute later and then a stop in calls until 7:07 a.m., then another two minutes later and then nine minutes later one more. At 7:39 a.m. the calls made from Williams' phone were coming from Chattanooga, TN. At 8:05 a.m. on Oct. 29 the last call was made from that phone and no further calls were answered.
The defense team of Leah and Terrence Madden did their best to punch holes in all witness testimony, arguing that they had not personally prepared the maps shown to jurors and that they could not tell how many miles would be between the towers that were placed on the map using longitude and latitude.
They also attempted to prove that Williams was a drug dealer, but witnesses all seemed to dispute those claims, saying she was not the type of person to deal drugs.
Linda Mitchell, Williams' next-door neighbor said that she never saw heavy foot traffic at Williams' home, generally associated with someone selling drugs out of the house. She admitted to not knowing Williams well, saying they had become “talking neighbors” in the last six to eight months that Williams was at the home. She testified that Williams was a bit of a loner but that she loved yard work and could often been seen outside tending to her yard and planting flowers.
“She was a very nice person,” Mitchell said. “I never knew her to be involved in drugs and she didn't strike me as the type to be involved in them.”
She also said that she had seen Benson at the home and that Williams had referred to him as “her man.”
Mitchell told jurors of a day that she noticed a limb to one of her trees cut and laying on the ground in her yard. She dismissed it until one morning not long after she heard a loud sound, went outside and saw Benson and Williams in the yard. She told jurors that she commented on the “mystery being solved” of how her limb was cut and she said that Williams replied, “yeah, Franklin got a new toy.” Benson's new toy, she testified, was a chainsaw.
Williams’ best friend Janice Stewart, who has known her since childhood, told the jury about their friendship and said that Williams would never be involved in drug activities.
"She wasn’t that type of person," she said, her voice choked with emotion.
Stewart told the courtroom that she last spoke with Williams on the morning of her birthday, Oct. 27. She said that Williams mentioned that she hoped to go to a casino with Benson but made no mention of driving to Michigan. On Nov. 3, Stewart tried to reach her friend and the call went straight to voice mail. She testified that she tried to reach Williams all day on Nov. 4 and after not being able to reach her began calling family members to see if they had heard from her.
She found an ink pen with Benson's automotive shop's number and called there but the shop was closed. She called again the next day, a Monday, and spoke with Benson. He told Stewart the story about Williams getting a flat tire on her way to Michigan but changed things a bit, telling her that she left with a man and a woman he knew as Shondra. When Stewart asked him if he had tried to reach Williams since she had been gone he said that he hadn't tried to call her “because she was mad at him.”
About 15 minutes after Stewart hung up, Benson allegedly called her back and asked her if she knew anything about Williams “delivering packages.”
“I though he was crazy,” she said.
Benson continued to tell Stewart about strange people that he said Williams was involved with, her “job” delivering packages of drugs and a lot of money that she reportedly had. He also asked her if she knew about the loans Williams had made to him. He also reportedly told Stewart that Williams had gone to a casino, had a bad time, and was headed to Michigan to visit another casino.
On Nov. 6, Benson once again called Stewart, according to her testimony. He asked her if they [Williams' family and friends] thought he had “done something to her,” adding that the police were “all over him.” On Nov. 10, Stewart made the long trip from Michigan to Atlanta.
“Why did you come to Atlanta,” asked Zon.
“Because my friend was missing,” answered an emotional Stewart.
“Do you think that Leslyan led a double life,” Zon questioned.
“No,” Stewart said, with conviction.
A criminal history of Williams, who was 49-years-old at the time of her death, showed no criminal history whatsoever.
Also brought before the jury was a video of surveillance taken at a parking lot of a Chattanooga hotel, showing a man who looked remarkably like Benson, towing what turned out to be Williams’ car into the parking lot, backing the car into a space and then leaving the area. The video was taken on Oct. 29 and Williams’ car was located there on Nov. 15. The vehicle seen towing Williams’ car into that parking lot was a multi-colored Chevrolet Suburban — the same vehicle Benson was known to drive regularly.
In an interview with Georgia Bureau of Investigation Special Agent Brian Johnston, Benson never volunteered that he had been to Tennessee or towed Williams’ car there. In a search of one of the two car shops that Benson owned however, Williams’ keys were found in a customer’s car, along with a blue woman’s shoe, some black plastic and latex gloves. He did reiterate that he spoke with her about a flat tire.
"There’s no way you had a conversation with her about a flat tire in Tennessee for 30 seconds," said Johnston. "Because that’s how long that call lasted. You can’t dispute that."
Benson argued that he had no motive to harm Williams, but Johnston offered him one.
"Whether you say you have reason or not a reasonable person would say you had a reason," said Johnston. "Money! You were having money problems and you had an argument [about money] the night before you left."
Benson was asked in the interview if he had cared for Williams.
“I don't do the love thing,” he said. “She was one of my girls, one of my friends.”
When asked if he killed her he answered “absolutely not,” adding “I don't do violence... I don't put my hands on women.”
At one point Johnston spoke to Benson about what was left of Williams' body and Benson said “why would someone do some stuff like that? There's anger to do that type of stuff.”
Benson had previously told investigators that he had forgotten his cell phone, which was set on auto answer, which allows the phone to automatically pick up after a few rings. Benson regularly wore a Blue Tooth and would keep that in his ear the majority of the time.
“I don't buy the fact that you went anywhere without your cell phone,” said Johnston. “We have people – honest people – who were trying to get in touch with you and could not. Two people said when the called you, the phone answered and you didn't talk.”
Several witnesses said when Benson's phone answered that morning they heard what sounded like a television playing in the background.
As investigators began to zero in on Benson as a suspect, they searched his two businesses. One of the car care shops was located in Forest Park and on Nov. 11 initiated a search warrant. In that shop a small trailer was located and when investigators looked inside they found clothing and household items like one would expect to find during a move. According to testimony, one of Benson’s sisters — who has yet to take the stand — said she helped Benson load those items into the trailer when he moved them out of Williams’ house on Nov. 3.
When investigators searched the Decatur location of Benson's business they did so very early in the morning and an employee of Benson's met them at the business to let them in. When she walked in she immediately volunteered to investigators that two boxes of latex gloves had been moved from their original spot, a trashcan was missing and there was a large garbage bag with an empty bleach bottle in in there – none of which was there when she closed the shop.
“Of all the evidence collected none had Franklin Benson or Leslyan Williams blood,” said Terrence Madden. “They cannot tell us how she was killed. Are you aware of a witness that can tell us how Leslyan Williams was killed,” he asked Johnston.
“Yes,” Johnston replied, looking directly at Benson.
Cecil Hutchins, a GBI crime scene specialist spoke about processing several different areas. Luminol (a chemical that is able to detect trace amounts of blood by reacting with the iron found in hemoglobin) was used and reacted on several areas in Williams' home, the storage trailer with Benson's belongings and a drain in his Forest Park shop and in the glass house. However, luminol will also react to certain cleaning chemicals and metals and when the samples were tested many came back negative for blood.
What did come back positive was some of the clothing found in Williams' car. According to Cynthia Seguin, a GBI examiner and expert in DNA, a skirt and shirt found in Williams' car came back positive for Williams' blood, a pink bra also had blood from Williams and DNA from Benson on it and there was blood found in the upstairs bathroom in Williams' home but was untypable. Latex gloves found had DNA of an unknown female.
The last witness to take the stand Thursday evening was Cassandra Benson, the sister of Franklin. Although she didn’t know Williams well, she testified that she had spent a day with her when the two met up at Benson’s shop. They had decided to attend some job training on Oct. 29, 2007 and spent the day together, eating and talking about Williams’ hope to open her own business.
Williams had received around $20,000 from refinancing her home and was planning on using that to live off while getting her business off the ground. She had quit her job as a caregiver to pursue those goals. At one point that day the two women were driving in the car together when Williams began talking about her relationship with Franklin Benson.
She reportedly told Cassandra that she had never let a man use her nor had she ever taken care of a man. She talked about dating Benson on and off for the last decade and began to get upset, according to Cassandra, saying that Benson had lied to her.
According to Cassandra’s testimony, Benson had asked to move in with her and when they discussed it he told her he had good credit and his finances were in order. She reportedly told Cassandra that she had loaned Benson a large amount of money — roughly $20,000 — and that he wasn’t paying her back and he was not paying the household bills that he had agreed to pay prior to moving in with her.
She said that she wanted to go to the casino for her birthday and allegedly told Cassandra that Benson was taking her because "she didn’t have anymore money." Williams also reportedly said that she was going to have to go back to work because she had depleted all her savings since Benson wasn’t helping with the bills.
Cassandra testified that she was supposed to pick Williams up on Oct. 29 to travel together to the job orientation and although she tried many times, she was never able to get in touch with her. Repeated calls to her brother went unanswered for several hours as well. When she finally reached him she told jurors that Benson had informed her that he had gone to Tennessee to change a flat tire for Williams, who then went on to Michigan because she was upset at him for not taking her to the casino for her birthday and that she would be back Wednesday. No one ever saw Williams alive again.
“You've always been jealous of Mr. Benson, haven't you?” asked defense attorney Leah Madden.
“No,” said Cassanda.
“You're not jealous that he has two shops and you're unemployed,” she asked.
“No,” Cassandra said once more.
"Do you want to be here today testifying against your brother?" asked Zon.
"Partly I do and I partly don’t," said Cassandra. "He’s my brother and I love him no matter what. We were close and it hurts to be here, period. But I do [want to be here] because Leslie [Leslyan Williams] was a friend."
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