OREGON CITY, Ore. (KOIN) – A Clackamas County jury found a former Gladstone police sergeant guilty of the aggravated murder of his wife.
The jury’s verdict against Lynn Edward Benton was unanimous after five days of deliberations. The trial itself lasted five weeks.
Benton was convicted of two counts of aggravated murder, three counts of solicitation to commit aggravated murder, two counts of criminal conspiracy to commit aggravated murder and one count of attempted aggravated murder.
The sentencing phase will start next Tuesday. It will be up to the jury to decide whether Benton will be sentenced to death, life in prison without the possibility of parole or life in prison with the possibility of parole after serving a minimum of 30 years.
Benton, 54, was accused of conspiring with her close friend Susan Campbell and her son Jason Jaynes to have his wife, Debbie Higbee-Benton killed in 2011. Benton, according to prosecutors, feared that his wife was going to file a police report over domestic violence allegations. Police believe the fear of having his career jeopardized by the allegations drove Benton to have his wife killed.
Benton was born female but transitioned and identifies as male.
When Higbee-Benton was found inside her salon, a deputy medical examiner determined she had died of a heart attack. It wasn’t until the autopsy that it was determined that she had been shot in the back and had been strangled. Her death was ruled a homicide.
The case came to a head when a friend of Campbell’s came forward and told investigators that Campbell had confessed to her role in the plot, according to court documents.
Both Campbell and her son are awaiting their own separate trials.
Prosecutors said Campbell is the one who shot Higbee-Benton and Jaynes went to the salon to finish the job.
In a statement, the Gladstone Police Department said: Our condolences and deepest sympathies go out to the family of Debbie Higbee and all those affected by this tragedy. Debbie was a beloved member of our community and missed by those who knew her. There are no winners in this case and these lives are forever altered.
We will continue to make the safety and well-being of the community of Gladstone our top priority. We are grateful for the support we’ve received and look forward to continuing the good work of building a strong community that our residents are proud to be part of.
Currently, Governor Kate Brown has continued a moratorium on the death penalty that former Gov. John Kitzhaber first ordered while he was in office. Legal observers tell KOIN 6 News despite the moratorium, nothing has changed at the criminal charging and trial levels.
Prosecutors can still seek the death penalty for someone charged with aggravated murder. If convicted, the jury must consider all three sentencing options, including death. While the moratorium is underway, anyone sentenced to death will remain on death row while their case is automatically appealed before the high courts.