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By Richard Connelly
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Raby swears that Benge was there. He greeted Raby when he arrived — "long time no see" — and stood behind Franklin in the doorway as she told Raby to go. Raby says that as he and Lee were leaving, Bangs, the man who painted Franklin's house, arrived in a red pickup and shook Raby's hand. Raby continued on his way, finished his beer and, as was his custom, lobbed the bottle into the air. It broke on the street.
Phillips remembers Raby throwing the bottle against the side of the house, just inches from Franklin. He was surprised, he says, that Benge and Rose both left with Raby after he insulted their grandmother like that.
Bangs remembers drinking on the porch with Benge, Rose and possibly Phillips during the altercation. In his version, "Right at nightfall, a maroon red Chevy truck pulled up in the street. Someone got out and the truck pulled away. It was Charles (Buster). He came struttin up, with his shirt over his shoulder. We asked where he had been? He said prison."
On the night of the murder, Officer C.C. Coleman arrived first at the scene. She noted that the bathroom sink was running and splashing water on the floor.
According to her report, Benge said that after he turned his grandmother over and found the cuts on her throat, he "freaked and went to call the police, but washed his hands real quick in the bathroom. Benge stated that at that time his cousin Lee showed up."
Benge's police statement says that, after Rose arrived, Benge went into his room and dialed 911, then went to the sink and turned on the water but didn't wash his hands. He went back to the phone and called his girlfriend, then went outside and washed his hands with a neighbor's hose.
Benge's testimony at trial doesn't mention him washing his hands, but says that he and Lee made the 911 call together. As in his statement, he had just discovered his grandmother and her wounds when Rose and Phillips walked inside.
Rose now remembers walking in just as Benge flipped on the kitchen light but, in his statement, said simply that Benge "was already home." Phillips did the same in his: "When we got there Eric was already there. He had found Mrs. Franklin dead on the floor."
Phillips says he is surprised that, ever since, no one has contacted him about the case.
"When me and Lee was walking up through the yard, we could see Eric coming out the [front] bedroom, you know, going back to the back den [Franklin's] room," Phillips says. "Then by the time that me and Lee had walked up on the porch and opened the door, well, we could see her laying on the floor, and then that was when Eric was coming back out from the back den [Franklin's] room, you know, and then he seen us and was like 'Look, look, Grandma's dead, Grandma's dead.'"
Phillips says Benge had been rummaging through Franklin's purse in search of $300. Frazier says that, if Phillips's version is true, it "totally discredits" Benge as a witness and casts doubt on the case for a capital offense, which relied heavily on his version of how he found the crime scene.
("The last thing I was thinking about is money," Benge says, adding that Franklin used checks to buy food, which friends recall as well.)
"Nobody really knows that but me and Lee," Phillips says. "We already knew that he was just back there getting the money out of her purse, you know, because he knew that she had $300 in her purse back there. And then that night, later on that night he pulled the money out and said, you know, 'Well, she gave me the $300.'"
Benge and Rose say Phillips is mistaken and point out that he scarcely entered the house.
"The first thing that popped in my head is the person's still in the house," Phillips says. "So I took off."
Perras — who now claims Benge "had a misconstrued concept of our relationship" and says she had to repeatedly ask him to leave that night — says she received a hysterical call from Benge shortly after he left her house and came right to the scene.
"I called Donna. Like a dumbass. I don't know why I called her first," Benge says now, adding that it was Rose who eventually called police.
"As soon as I dropped the phone, I ran back over [into the living room], and that's when [Rose] walked in the door...I guess the best way to put this, man, is that when this shit was going on — there's still parts to me that are hazy. As far as freaking out."
In a signed affidavit, Perras says that after she arrived, Benge told her the killer must have been a junkie looking for money to buy drugs, and seemed to have an idea of who it was. She believed it was someone to whom he owed money.
"I know it was drug-related. It had to be," she said in a recent interview, adding that on an earlier visit to Benge's house, she had found it in disarray and the neighborhood full of shady people.
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