TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) – A 22-year-old man was charged Tuesday with capital murder in the deaths of a southeast Kansas mother and her three children, and the state attorney general’s office said in a court filing that authorities have evidence of domestic violence.
Attorney General Derek Schmidt’s office also charged David Cornell Bennett Jr., of Cherryvale, with rape and criminal threat. And as a potential alternative to the capital murder charge, Schmidt’s office filed four counts of first-degree murder in Labette County District Court.
Bennett’s new, court-appointed attorney, Shane Adamson, declined to comment. Bennett has a court appearance scheduled for Wednesday afternoon in Oswego, the county seat and where Bennett is jailed.
Bennett is being held on $5 million bond in the deaths of 29-year-old Cami Umbarger and her children, 9-year-old Hollie Betts, 6-year-old Jaxon Betts and 4-year-old Averie Betts. Their bodies were found Nov. 25 in their home in Parsons, about 90 miles northeast of Tulsa, Okla., and Bennett was arrested and jailed the next day.
Authorities have declined to say exactly how the four were killed, but a complaint signed by Schmidt and an assistant attorney general said they died between Nov. 23 and 25. The complaint also accused Bennett of raping Umbarger on or about Nov. 23 and threatening her once in September and October, though it did not give the details of those alleged crimes.
“There is evidence this offense is a domestic violence offense,” the attorney general’s complaint said in the capital murder count.
A cousin told The Associated Press last week that Umbarger met Bennett in September and went out with him a couple of times. The cousin also said that when Umbarger tried to break off the relationship, Bennett “wouldn’t leave her alone.”
Bennett was arrested at gunpoint Nov. 26 in Independence, about 35 miles southwest of Parsons, where he worked a roofing job. His hometown of Cherryvale is between the two communities.
Kansas law allows a defendant to be charged with a single count of capital murder for multiple killings that are premeditated and occur “as part of the same transaction” or are connected by “a common scheme or course of conduct.” Also, killing a victim during or following a rape can be charged as a capital crime. If the state opts to seek the death penalty, juries can recommend either death by lethal injection or life in prison with no parole.
Kansas has not executed someone since reinstating capital punishment in 1994, but it has eight inmates currently under death sentences.
Schmidt’s office filed charges against Bennett as Topeka police were investigating what they described as the city’s first quadruple homicide.
A 45-year-old woman was found Sunday behind a central Topeka restaurant with a serious gunshot wound. Police later found the bodies of her 43-year-old brother, her 56-year-old ex-husband and a 34-year-old woman at her home, about a half-mile away. The 45-year-old woman died Tuesday at a local hospital.
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