Teen pleads guilty in Elgin car-crushing murder, gets 15-year sentence
By Dave Gathman email@example.com May 24, 2012 4:42PM
Updated: July 3, 2012 9:38AM
ST. CHARLES TWP. — Lacorbek Benion of Elgin, the teenager whose minor dust-up at a party led to another teen being crushed to death on purpose by his mother’s car in Elgin in 2009, was sentenced to 15 years in prison Thursday after reaching a plea agreement with the Kane County State’s Attorney’s Office.
Benion, who is now 18, agreed to plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit murder and accept the maximum sentence for that crime, 15 years. However, Judge Allen Anderson noted Benion could get up to half that sentence cancelled for good behavior.
He originally had been charged with three counts of first-degree murder, which brings a potential sentence of 20 to 60 years in prison, with no time off for good behavior. Assistant State’s Attorney Greg Sams agreed to drop the murder charges in return for the guilty plea.
Benion’s mother, Timera Branch of Streamwood, was convicted of first-degree murder last summer and is now serving a 34-year sentence in Dwight Correctional Institution.
They were accused of killing 17-year-old John Keyes III outside the Burnham Wing Schoolhouse Apartments, at Kimball and Center streets, on Nov. 8, 2009.
According to testimony during Branch’s trial, Keyes and Benion got into an argument over a girl at a party in Elgin the night before the murder. Keyes struck Benion in the face, opening a cut that required him to be taken to the emergency room of Sherman Hospital in Elgin.
Witnesses at the first trial, including Branch herself, said she was angry because she felt Benion had been repeatedly picked on by bullies. So on the afternoon of Nov. 8, she drove to the apartment building where she had heard Keyes could be found. Benion and some other teenagers followed in a second car, driven by his father.
Branch claimed she only wanted to talk out the problem with Keyes’ family and settle things peacefully. But other witnesses said she had vowed to teach her son to stand up for himself. During Thursday’s hearing, Benion and his lawyer, Van Richards, admitted that if the second case had gone to trial, witnesses would have testified that the people in the car containing Benion had stopped on their way to the apartments to pick up a baseball bat and possibly some tire irons.
When the cars arrived at the apartment house, Branch admitted during her trial, she saw Keyes standing outside the building and, in a fit of rage, she crashed her car into him, crushing him against the building and an electrical switching box. Keyes’ autopsy showed that he bled to death internally.
Benion admitted in Thursday’s hearing that if there had been a trial, witnesses would have testified to seeing him get out of the second car, walk up to where Keyes’ crushed body lay and swing the bat.
Benion has been free since shortly after his 2010 arrest, wearing an electronic home-monitoring bracelet and staying with relatives. Court officials listed his last known address as the 1300 block of Todd Farm Drive, Elgin.
Telling his story
Speaking to the judge and a dozen members of Keyes’ family before he was sentenced, Benion noted that when the murder happened, “I was barely 16 and had never been in trouble in my life.”
While under home-monitoring arrest, Benion said, he has worked at a job, finished high school and become active in a church.
When he gets out of prison, he said, “I hope to go to college and become an engineer and have kids and teach them lessons” from what happened in 2009.
“I would like to express my remorse for the life that was unfortunately lost. I wish I had known then what I know now, and I wish my mother had made better choices also.”
Sams said that before offering the plea agreement, the state’s attorney’s office considered the defendant’s age when the killing happened, his lack of previous arrests and how much he participated in the murder.
Sams noted that while witnesses saw Benion swing a bat, no one saw the bat hit Keyes’ already mangled body.
Passing sentence, Judge Anderson said that based on Benion’s good behavior during his two years under house arrest, he has confidence that Benion can earn the right to get out in as little as 7.5 years, but that will be up to Benion.
“This defendant’s decision to accept responsibility for his actions relieved the family of John Keyes III from having to sit through another agonizing trial,” Kane County State’s Attorney Joe McMahon said later.
“This situation escalated out of control when an adult who should have been a voice of reason decided to be a participant in a dispute among teenagers,” McMahon said. “Adolescents will make bad decisions. It’s part of growing up. Adults must help them understand why the decisions were bad. Adults should not jump in and encourage worse behavior.”