Stephen Bennett set up the Feb. 5, 2006, cocaine deal and drove the vehicle from Oceanside to the heart of Irvine for his co-conspirators, who chased down their trusty drug dealer, shot him dead in view of numerous witnesses and took his narcotics.
A car wash surveillance camera captured Bennett standing in a parking lot and urinating across the street and away from the murder and robbery.
Bennett wants to know how he could be held personally liable for the actions of his buddies when he claims did not know what violent crimes they would commit, didn't know they were armed and wasn't in a physical location to prevent the death.
Those are among the arguments Bennett has used in eight unsuccessful appellate attempts to unravel his convictions and tough punishment.
He recently wrote another appeal to the U.S. District Court in the Central District of California, where Magistrate Judge Paul L. Abrams carefully reviewed the case and issued a report.
According to Abrams, the Orange County District Attorney's office (and prosecutor Ebrahim Baytieh, one of the members of the offices' elite homicide unit) had “sufficient” evidence to support the aiding and abetting” charges and “a rational juror could conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that petitioner knew in advance his co-perpetrators intended to commit the robbery, and [Bennett] intended to, and did, facilitate the commission of a robbery.”
In California, all participants in, say, a robbery can be held additionally liable for homicide if a victim dies in the process regardless of whether they pulled the trigger or not.
To Bennett's way of thinking, prosecutor Baytieh obtained no evidence that driving the vehicle to buy drugs equaled knowing participation in a robbery/murder as well as harboring reckless indifference to human life.
But Abrams noted that the victim would still be alive if Bennett hadn't lured him out of his apartment.
He also said there was evidence that the defendant repeatedly lied to police detectives, a sign of consciousness of guilt.
This month, U.S. District Court Gary A. Feess handed Bennett his ninth appellate loss by accepting Abrams' recommendation to reject the complaints.
Upshot: For not wanting to pay for $1,200 worth of cocaine, the 41-year-old Bennett will continue to serve his life without the possibility of parole punishment inside High Desert State Prison in Susanville.