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U.S. Accused of Letting a Killing Occur

Crime: Agents knew of plot but did nothing to stop it, attorneys for alleged hit man say in court papers. Federal spokesman says they did not know the name beforehand.


Defense attorneys for an alleged hit man Thursday accused federal agents of allowing a murder for hire to occur even though they had monitored about 30 wiretapped conversations in which the scheme and information identifying the intended target had been revealed.

In federal court papers filed in Los Angeles, attorneys for Daniel Ray Bennett said government agents "should have known the identity of the intended victim long before the murder . . . yet, they did nothing to save the victim. . . . This conduct was outrageous."

Bennett faces the death penalty for his alleged involvement in a November murder for hire in Las Vegas that was linked to a nationwide heroin and cocaine conspiracy ring.

It is the first time that the U.S. attorney's office in the Central District of California has sought the death penalty under the murder-for-hire statute that was amended in 1994, a year when Congress enacted a number of federal laws involving the death penalty.

According to prosecutors, Bennett, 27, and his alleged accomplice, Roy Lee Lovett Jr., 18, were hired by reputed South-Central drug dealer Edward Stanley Jr. to kill Rickey Ray Hall in retaliation for Hall's alleged theft of $300,000 from Stanley.

Hall was gunned down in Las Vegas on Nov. 26. Just before being shot in the head, the victim allegedly told Bennett, accused of being the triggerman, "I don't know you, man," according to court documents.

Prosecutors contend that the target was never mentioned by name in the phone conversations and that they only discovered that the murder occurred when Bennett called Stanley to report that the deed had been done.

But defense attorneys claim in their motion that the tapped telephone conversations revealed a number of clues that should have led them to Hall.

"Rather than make arrests as a trained, prudent law enforcement officer should have done, they gambled and lost," defense attorneys for Bennett stated in their motion. "Rickey Ray Hall died as a result."

A spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office disputed the defense's claim that the government allowed the murder to occur.

"The basis allegation . . . is quite inflammatory and simply not true," said Thomas F. Mrozek, a public affairs officer for the federal prosecutors.

Mrozek said he would not "comment on the specifics of the motion filed today [Thursday] because there are both factual and legal issues that we need to examine. . . . There are a lot of assumptions made in those papers, all of which may not be accurate."

In addition to Bennett, who has served a prison term for a previous second-degree murder conviction, prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against Stanley for his alleged role in the plot, a defense attorney said. If convicted, Lovett faces life in prison without the possibility of parole for his alleged involvement, the attorney added.

The alleged murder-for-hire scheme was discovered after authorities tapped the phones of Stanley, who is believed to have operated a nationwide heroin and cocaine distribution network, and several other individuals.

At one point, federal agents thought that they had discovered the intended target of the hit and warned him of the plot, according to court documents. But the agents were wrong. Meanwhile, the alleged contract killing was carried out.

Federal Public Defender H. Dean Steward, one of the attorneys who represents Bennett, said in his motion to dismiss the federal indictment that "the agents in this case were uniquely in a position to prevent a murder. For whatever illogical reason, they chose not to do so."

Steward said the agents could have easily located Hall if they had pursued information that was disclosed in the telephone conversations. Contrary to the prosecution's statement, Steward said the victim's first name was revealed.

"The agents listened to approximately 30 conversations concerning the scheme over a six-week period, where the participants, the target, his girlfriend Tina Cage, her car and his car, their home, his usual area frequented and his physical description were all identified for them" before the murder, Steward stated in the motion.

Furthermore, Steward said the person that federal agents believed was the intended victim, identified in court papers as Percy L. Bacon, was in jail from Nov. 13 to Dec. 23. Taped conversations show that Bennett and Lovett said they had seen the intended victim the night before the shooting.

Three days before the slaying, Bennett allegedly told Stanley that the intended victim was hanging out on Jackson Street in Las Vegas "every day."

"During those last two weeks prior to the murder, as the intended victim was spotted repeatedly by the plotters, shouldn't the agents have realized that they warned the wrong man?" Steward asked in the documents. "Indeed, the agents should have known exactly who the intended victim was. Through the wiretaps, they received detail after detail."

Steward also accuses federal agents of keeping "the District Court judge who authorized the wiretaps largely in the dark about the seriousness of this plot. This conduct is outrageous."

If the indictment is not dismissed, Steward argues in his motion that prosecutors should be prohibited from pursuing the death penalty because of the federal agents' lack of action. Had authorities arrested Bennett before the murder, he would not be facing the death penalty, Steward said.

"By allowing the events to unfold here unchecked, the government allowed a murder to happen that could have been easily averted," Steward wrote. "The actions the agents did take failed to avert the murder."

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