Transcribed Episode / S3 EP35: McMartin Preschool Trials
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A mother’s love is unconditional and I don't think it's something that can be argued by anyone. There is a bond between a mother and her child that is strong and unbreakable and begins the moment that child is born. You’ve heard this before, and I don’t think it’s something that can be argued with by anyone. It’s the type of love that sees past faults, failures, and wrongdoings. I’ve witnessed many mothers, even within my own extended family, who will love and be there for their child, without hesitation, over and over again, even while their child treats them poorly, lies to them, says disrespectful and mean things to them, or steals from them. As outsiders to those situations, we think, “How can someone look past all those faults and still love that person?”
What if though, that child commits murder, the most serious of all social offenses? Something that is looked at by society as being one of the most abhorrent acts anyone can commit. Should that mother look past that heinous act, and continue to love them?
Nicolas Cruz, the shooter of the Parkland High School Florida massacre who callously murdered 17 people in 2018 is currently awaiting his fate - whether or not he will receive life in prison or the death penalty for his acts will be decided by jurors. As part of his defense, his attorneys have laid out that Cruz had a traumatizing upbringing, including drug and alcohol use by his biological mother who gave him up for adoption, and behavioral issues that didn’t get immediately addressed by his adoptive mother. You could go back to Cruz’ birth and childhood and pinpoint where exactly it all went wrong, and maybe even point out all of the red flags that were present in his youth that led up to the murders.
But that’s not always the case, sometimes there are no red flags to warn us and sometimes the warning signs aren’t that apparent.. And that brings us to this episode, where a mother in Abilene Texas was left to wonder “what could’ve happened to cause this?” as her love was tested in the worst way imaginable.
Charity Lee Bennett was born in 1974 to James Robert Bennett Jr, and Kyla Bennett. James was the owner and executive at Bob Bennett Trucking Company in Atlanta Georgia and Kyla worked as one of the key managers.Charity grew up in a privileged household; her mother had money and the family lived in an exclusive neighborhood in Atlanta Country Club Estates. Charity had the opportunity to attend private schools and enjoyed tending to the horses on her family’s large property.
But tragedy soon struck the Bennet household. During the early morning hours of March 11, 1980, an alleged hitman entered the Bennett home and shot 37 year old James Bennett in the foyer of the home multiple times in the head and back with a .357 Magnum. Charity was only six years old at the time.
Police were suspicious that the hitman was hired by his wife, Kyla Bennett, the couple having recently gotten remarried after having been divorced. They promptly arrested Kyla and charged her with murder for hire. Kyla spent weeks in jail while she was put through a trial and faced a possible sentence of life in prison. She was ultimately acquitted of all charges and released.
Now Charity had to face a life without her father, and was sadly left with a cold and distant mother. Throughout the years, Kyla would marry a total of seven times. Charity certainly felt the effects of this and always believed she was secondary to her mother’s wants and needs.
Charity did everything she could to the only parent she had left to make her proud of her, but it seemed like nothing was ever good enough. She was a smart student and completed high school early - skipping the tenth grade and graduating with honors. But losing her father coupled with the unstable circumstances with her mother were too much to handle, and Charity became depressed and eventually turned to alcohol and drugs…heroin being her drug of choice. She also attempted suicide several times by overdosing on sleeping pills. By the time she turned 17, the drug and alcohol use had gotten so out of control, that her mother handed her a $100 bill, and told her to leave and try to straighten out her life or use the money to buy drugs and overdose.
Charity checked herself into a halfway house and worked hard to get clean and sober. When she was 18 years old, she became pregnant, and on October 10, 1993 she gave birth to a son, Paris Lee Bennett.
Paris’ father wanted nothing to do with the child, so Charity was left to raise him on her own. She took the opportunity to embrace her role and showered Paris with attention. He was her world; she wanted more than anything to be the mother that she never had.
Paris was a loving, affectionate and happy child, who was also particularly intelligent and creative.
In 2001, Charity became pregnant a second time. Having been an only child for the past eight years, this was not an easy adjustment for Paris and he became jealous. Whenever someone would talk about the baby's arrival, he’d get upset and walk out of the room.
Ella Lee Bennett was born on April 12, 2022, and once Paris laid eyes on her, whatever jealousy was initially there was gone the minute he saw her, and he embraced his new little sister.
Ella’s father also decided not to be involved in raising her, and that left Charity to now be a single mother to two children.
Ella was a bubbly, outgoing little girl - she loved to perform and play dress-up and had a huge personality, and Paris was the “adoring big brother.” The siblings shockingly never fought, and Paris would often play with Ella, and help her pick out her clothes.
Things seemed to be going pretty good in the Bennet household, but then when Paris was 12, Charity relapsed and began using drugs again…this time her drug of choice was cocaine. Paris was angry with his mother for relapsing, feeling that she’d put her habit before him. It would take about six months for Charity to get sober again. By this time they were moving from house to house, and had even moved in with Charity’s mother Kyla for a while, until they were able to get their next place in Abilene Texas.
Charity got a job working full time as a waitress at the restaurant, Buffalo Wild Wings, while she studied for her masters degree in education. As she was a single mother and didn’t have any family nearby to watch the kids, she would employ a babysitter to stay with Paris and Ella while she was at work.
During the weekend of February 4th 2007, the babysitter had taken Paris and Ella to the local mall to go shopping.. At the beginning of each month, Paris was given an allowance for that month, with the intention that he would learn to budget the money and make it last for the entire month. But while at the mall, Paris decided to spend all of his money while he was there.
When Charity found out he’d spent all his money, she wasn’t happy, and told him that he could pick one or two things he wanted to keep, but the rest of the items he would have to take back. As you can imagine, Paris, now a 13 year old teenager, was upset by this and barely spoke to his mother the rest of the day.
February 5 2007 was Super Bowl Sunday and Charity had a busy day ahead of her at Buffalo Wild Wings. The babysitter arrived to watch Paris and Ella, and before Charity left for work, she gave the kids a hug and kiss but Paris didn’t reciprocate the hug. Knowing that he was still mad about having to take the items back, she told him “you know Paris I love you, we’ve gone through hard times before and we’ll get through this too.”
It was around 9:30 that night when the babysitter put Ella to bed. Just after 10:00 Paris convinced the babysitter that she could leave early, and that he was able to keep watch over his sister for the rest of the night. So she left.
It was a little past 12:30am when police officers arrived at Buffalo Wild Wings and asked to speak with Charity. They told her that her daughter had been harmed. She was completely confused, and asked them to take her to her daughter, but police refused to do that, telling her that, quote “you can’t go, she’s dead.”
A million things went through Charity’s mind and she asked them about her son, was he alright? They told her that they had him, and then told her something that no mother should ever have to hear…that Paris had “killed her daughter.” Charity recalled that from that moment on investigators began to treat her as a suspect and started to pepper her with questions.
It wouldn’t be until 5 hours later that authorities would finally allow Charity to enter her own home and see her daughter. She was led to her daughter’s room, where Ella had been placed inside a body bag. They had unzipped the bag just enough to show Ella's head but kept the rest of her body covered. When she saw Ella she began sobbing. After seeing her daughter’s lifeless body, she asked to see her son.
Later that night, investigators took Charity to the juvenile detention center where Paris was being held. When she saw him, she grabbed him and hugged him, but he didn’t hug her back; there was a blankness and void in her son’s eyes. She confronted him, asking him about what had happened, and he went quiet. When he did finally speak, the he said, “Well it took you fucking long enough.”
After the initial investigation, authorities told Charity what had happened the night her daughter was murdered.
She found out that Paris had somehow persuaded the babysitter to leave early. After the babysitter left, Paris grabbed a knife and went into his sister’s bedroom, where she lay in her bed asleep. He first choked her, then stabbed his sister, twice, initially. When she wasn’t dying quick enough, he proceeded to stab her another 15 times. Then he strangled her.
After stabbing her, he picked up the phone and called one of his friends from school, talking to him for about six minutes before calling 911:
Abilene 911 go ahead
I accidentally killed somebody
You think you killed somebody?
No, I know I did. I woke up and I was hallucinating...
You were hallucinating?
Yes, and I thought my sister was a demon and I killed her.
I want you to start CPR okay, what I want you to do is take her off the bed
No, I know for a fact that she's dead because I...
Do you want to go ahead and try? It might still help okay?
No I don't think it'll help because...
C'mon Paris work with me
I know I stabbed her lots of times
Take her off the bed and put her on the floor.
Okay hold on. Please don't hang up
I'm not hanging up on you.
I thought she was a demon
Okay she's on the floor but I can't stay here because she's all bloody and stuff.
Paris, what I want you to do is I want you to put your hands on her chest and I want you to push 30 times, I want you to count
All the way to 30, and then blow two breaths in her mouth.
Okay. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve
He put it down...
When police arrived at the Bennett home, Paris answered the door. They were let in the house and began to search the home. They checked the bedrooms, and a male officer who walked in her room, saw Ella laying face down on the carpet next to her bed, and said “Oh my God.”
At that time, Charity was still at work, and had no idea what had happened at her home. Police were dispatched to her place of work, where they told her of the horrifying news.
Paris was immediately brought in for questioning.
In the interview room, Paris told officers that he’d been hallucinating and thought Ella was a demon. He said that he was sleeping next to her and woke up suddenly claiming that he saw Ella covered in flames, that she was a pumpkin-headed demon, and she was laughing at him. He was terrified, so he grabbed the knife and began stabbing her.
But the police didn’t buy this story. It had been clear from looking over Ella’s body and the blood evidence on Paris, that CPR had not been performed on her at all - they knew he was lying. They also noticed that he was trying to cry when he was being questioned, but there were no tears.
After pressing him further, Paris’ story changed, and he finally told them the truth. He told them that he’d planned the attack and that he’d also wanted to kill his mother, but found out that killing someone was more difficult than he thought. He said that he’d stabbed his sister because his mom had made him angry, and he wanted to cause her pain. He told them that when he was 12 years old, his mother had started using drugs again, and this made him mad and he wanted to punish her for not staying sober..
He told them that when he was stabbing his sister, he would pull the knife out slowly, and said that it felt like stabbing a marshmallow or a mattress.
After this interview, Paris was promptly arrested.
For the next several weeks Charity would try to go to see Paris to talk to him while he was being held in jail, and the guards would turn her away, telling her that Paris didn’t want to see her.
An autopsy on Ella Bennett was conducted and it was noted that she suffered from 17 separate stab wounds and that she’d been beaten, and strangled. The knife wounds were inflicted slowly and deliberately, not in a wild fury, and most of the wounds were shallow.
But there was another shocking discovery: semen, that matched Paris, was found both on Ella’s bed and in the shorts that she was wearing. Not only had Paris brutally stabbed his sister, he’d sexually assaulted her as well.
Charity was told about the autopsy results, and investigators also uncovered additional information on what happened that night. They discovered that Paris had watched violent pornography including “S&M,” “bondage,” and “sadism,” and that he’d searched for snuff films - films that show scenes of murder - in the hours leading up to the attack on his sister.
Charity wanted answers, so she went to the jail to confront Paris and he finally agreed to see her. In her memoir, “How Now, Butterfly?: A Memoir of Murder, Survival & Transformation,” she states that whe she confronted him about the pornopgraphy and semen found on Ella, he lost control and flipped a table and punched a wall before walking away.
On a subsequent visit, he did finally admit to her that he’d watched hours of the brutal pornography, but did it so that she would see it and get mad. He also blamed that as the reason why he’d sexually assaulted his sister. After assaulting her, he said that he then decided to kill her as a means to cover up the sexual assault.
In a disturbing extract from Charity’s diary, which she compiled and published in her book, she detailed that conversation with Paris writing: “He sexually abused her that night, and he admitted the more violent he became, the more excited he became, ending in death for her and climax for him.” As painful as it was, Charity could no longer deny that her son had killed Ella on purpose.
While in jail, Paris was evaluated by several medical experts and his IQ was tested. The results showed that he had an extremely high IQ of 141, which is considered highly gifted, or a genius. Less than a quarter of one percent of the world’s population has that level of intelligence. He was also officially diagnosed as a psychopath, with every medical expert confirming that he cannot be cured.
About four or five months after the murder, Charity had found out some additional information from investigators, and she went to go and see Paris in the detention center because she couldn’t take it anymore, she needed to know why this happened.
When in front of Paris, she got angry and blurted out: “Paris, what the hell, how did this happen? I need something from you!”
He just kind of looked at her with no empathy or compassion, and grinned at her, and said “you all are just so fucking stupid. You all have just been so fucking stupid. All this time, you thought I was intelligent and handsome and charming and artistic and creative and helpful. You all are so fucking stupid, none of you saw the real me.”
He would continue to say cruel things to his mother for quite a while and it only got worse as time went on. He never once apologized to her for what he’d done.
Paris would ultimately plead “true” (which is the juvenile equivalent of guilty) to capital murder. He was sentenced to 40 years in prison to be served at the Ferguson Unit in Texas State Prison.
In 2019 Paris allowed an interview with Piers Morgan for his tv show called “Interview with a Psychopath.” The interview was conducted in the Texas State Prison and Morgan and Paris were put in two separate rooms separated by a glass partition, for Morgan’s own safety. In that interview, Paris went on to explain why he killed his sister:
[Interview with a Psychopath: Piers Morgan]
For many many years there was just this hot, flaming ball of wrath in the pit of my stomach and it was directed at my mother. One of the reasons why I chose to kill my sister and not someone else, is because I knew that by doing so I could hurt my mother in the worst possible way.
Because I'd always known as a child that the most devastating thing to my mother would be the loss of one her children, and I found a way to take away both her children in one fell swoop.
Morgan also asked Paris why he had so much pent up anger towards his mother:
[Interview with a Psychopath: Piers Morgan]
Why did you have such anger towards your mother?
I spent a lot of time feeling alone as a child. A lot of time feeling left out, not only by my peers but also by my own family.
You'd done this specifically in the end...
...to cause your mother maximum pain? This has achieved your goal, which was to, effectively I mean your mother lost both her children at once, one to death, one to incarceration. When you saw her completely grief stricken and in utter torment, that was what you were hoping to achieve by your actions. So I'm just curious whether the reality of what you hoped to achieve lived up to your expectation or hope.
No, at no point did I ever feel like I had accomplished something or that I had achieved a goal. one of the reasons it's so hard for me to talk about what I felt about that time is because I'm completely estranged from who I was then, and now I can't comprehend how I could've ever thought that killing my sister would've solved my problems.
It's like we're here talking about a completely different person, it's like you're asking me to try to climb inside someone else's head and peer through his eyes and catalog his thoughts. And I realize we're talking about myself, but it doesn't feel like we are.
This interview is very interesting to watch. Paris is extremely careful and calculated about what he says and how he responds - pausing before each answer. He doesn’t move much, has no hand gestures, offers little in terms of facial emotions and certainly displays no tears or remorse for murdering his sister. Following that interview, Morgan described Paris as one of the most disturbing interviews he'd ever done.
In another interview with Inside Edition's Steven Fabian in 2020, Paris admitted that he thought that by killing Ella he could have his mother back all to himself. He confessed that when he was on the phone with 911 and the operator was walking him through doing CPR on Ella, he was heard counting… but what he actually did was walk out of the room and count into the phone- he never actually did CPR.
As Charity continues to battle the realization of what her son did, she reflects back on his years growing up, and what could’ve caused something like this to happen. According to her, there was nothing significant that happened in his upbringing that could’ve led to him murdering his sister.
There were little things that perhaps could, if you added them all up, account for his future behavior. When Paris was 3 or 4 years old, Charity’s mother had a farm in North Carolina in the mountains. The house was built into the side of a mountain and its porch was pretty high off the ground. It was raining hard one day, and frogs would come out due to the rain. Charity walked outside and saw that Paris had a bucket full of frogs and was taking the frogs out one by one and throwing them over the porch rail to the concrete driveway below, killing the frogs. Charity stopped him, and Paris told her that he liked the sound they made when they hit the concrete.
At the age of eight or nine, after she’d punished him and put him on playstation restriction, he told her that he fantasized about decapitating her while she slept.
In another instance, he broke one of Ella’s toys while the two were playing together. Ella got upset and Charity then scolded and punished him. He got angry and picked up a kitchen knife and began waving it around. He ran out of the house with the knife and his mother and grandmother chased him. When he stopped he began waving the knife at them. They were able to finally pin him down and pull the knife away.
Following this incident, Charity checked him into a psychiatric facility. About a week later, he was discharged. The hospital never provided her with any information about her son, other than saying he was fine, but failed to tell her that they’d made a report stating Paris was obsessed with shooting and killing and that he had homicidal and suicidal ideations.
Paris was also known as a child to bang his head against the wall until it would bleed and there was even video footage of him making threatening gestures toward Ella.
And the most recent incident occurred when Paris was 13 year old. Charity had caught him wearing her undergarments, and thought that maybe he had questions about his sexuality. Paris told her that he wondered what it was like to be female or more specifically what it was like to be HER. After this incident, they both agreed to have him talk to a therapist. She made sure to tell him that there wasn’t anything wrong about what he was doing, but since didn’t know much about it, that he might be more comfortable talking through it with someone else, someone who understood that situation better. She found a therapist, but he murdered his sister the day before his scheduled appointment.
But even looking at these incidents, Charity believes that those can be explained as somewhat “normal” child behaviors, but that there still wasn’t one significant thing that made her think “yes, there it is, that’s what made him into a murderer.”
Throughout the years, Paris has taken full responsibility for the murder, but he insists he’s of sound mind, and adamantly denies that he suffers from any mental illness - in fact he has not had any mental evaluations since he was arrested when he was 13, and he will not allow any to be done.
Charity still travels from her home in Georgia every few months to go and visit Paris in prison, and says that she’s forgiven her son. During one visit, he assaulted her, and she talked about this incident in her diary:
“He slammed the table into me, pinning me against the concrete wall behind me. He cut off my air. I was in shock, paralyzed. I thought I was going to die there. Then he pulled the table back, I caught my breath, and he slammed it into me again.”
But this incident didn’t deter Charity from seeing him. Every once in a while Paris tries to confirm to his mother that his plan worked, that he was successful in punishing her, and tells her in various words that he enjoys watching her in pain.
In 2012, Charity gave birth to another son, Phoenix, and she allows Phoenix to talk with Paris while he’s in prison and explains that she does this to show Phoenix what unconditional love is. She also explains that the reason she still sees Paris is because she still loves him as her son and because she doesn’t want him to get the satisfaction of thinking he destroyed her.
I mean he is a psychopath, but I don't know how to stop loving my children.
Charity Lee started the San Antonio non profit organization, Ella Foundation, an acronym for Empathy, Love, Lessons and Action, whose mission is to prevent violence and to advocate for human rights through education, criminal justice reform and victim advocacy efforts.
In a statement on their website, Charity goes on to say what continues to push her moving forward:
…I am convinced, beyond the shadow of any doubt, the only reason I survive my personal hell is to accomplish four monumental goals. I survive to share my love and my family’s story with anyone who needs it or is willing to listen. I survive to offer my time and my heart to all victims of violence I meet. I survive to rattle the bars of the criminal justice system a bit by advocating for justice and humane treatment rather than punishment for those who do us harm. And finally, when I am done surviving hell, when goals one through three are accomplished and life sees fit to let me go, I will have survived to hold my daughter again.”
Can you sympathize with Charity? If your child killed another one of your children, would you or could you ever forgive them?
Paris is now 26 years old, and he will be up for parole in 5 years. Charity may never know the real reason to what caused her son to murder his own sister. At age 13, he’d lived as an only child for 8 years, maybe it was that he felt anger at being replaced in his mother’s eyes by his sister, or - in his own words - by his mother’s drug use. What we do know for sure, is that what Paris did was not a crime of passion - it was planned, and it was deliberate, and was the result of festering resentment against his mother.