Did he kill his wife for not accepting his sex change?
The court was silent as details of the murder victim’s tragic death were read out. And, as pictures of her body were shown, most couldn’t bring themselves to look.
Debbie Higbee-Benton had been brutally killed in her own hair salon. She was found with a gunshot wound to her back, a large black eye, and heavy bruising and redness on her body.
She’d also suffered injuries to her abdomen, chest, head, and had broken ribs, small tears in her lips, plus a tear in her liver.
Whoever killed her had made sure there was no chance she’d survive.
Hair stylist Debbie had been about to close her salon that fatal afternoon in May 2011.
She was due to meet friends for dinner at 6pm. When she didn’t arrive, her pals contacted her husband Lynn.
Lynn Benton was a sergeant at Gladstone Police Department in Oregon, USA.He’d been an officer for 24 years, and was one of the highest-ranking at his department.
He and his wife had started dating in 2008, getting hitched in 2010.
Debbie was a much-loved figure around town, known for her kindness and love of animals.
Sadly, the couple had recently separated. But when Lynn heard his wife was missing, he headed straight to the salon in search of her.
Along with an off-duty fire officer, Lynn let himself into the salon with a spare key.
They found Debbie dead in the storeroom. Lynn was distraught.
Originally, a medical examiner determined the cause of death was a heart attack. But an autopsy later revealed she’d been shot, strangled, then beaten.
After a tip-off, the police arrested local woman Susan Campbell, a friend of Lynn Benton’s. She admitted to police she’d gone to Debbie’s salon that day and, when they were alone, she’d shot her in the back.
The bullet didn’t kill Debbie, though.
So Campbell made a call – to Lynn!
Campbell claimed he’d hired her to kill Debbie.
She told police she owed him a favour after he’d helped her years ago, claiming Lynn had made a rape investigation of her son ‘disappear’.
Campbell told police she fled the salon and didn’t know who had strangled and beaten Debbie to death.
But her accusations against Lynn Benton seemed outrageous. Why would the police sergeant want his wife dead?
There was no DNA proof linking him to the crime and no evidence to suggest he’d hired Campbell to kill Debbie.
Was Susan Campbell just trying to pass the blame?
In an interview with police, she admitted she was a chronic liar.
‘I lie so much, nobody believes me,’ she reportedly told them on the day of her arrest.
In October 2012, as part of a plea deal, Campbell agreed to plead guilty to attempted aggravated murder and testify about the killing in exchange for a 10-year sentence.
However, this was later revoked, and she was charged with aggravated murder.
Then, the next month, Lynn Benton was arrested – charges included aggravated murder.
Campbell’s son Jason Jaynes was then also charged with aggravated murder – accused of being the one to finish the job when Campbell’s bullet failed to kill Debbie.
In September 2015, Lynn Benton’s trial began.
Clackamas County Circuit Court heard that he and his wife weren’t on the best of terms at the time of her death.
When the couple had first met, Benton was a woman called Lynne Irene. The pair had a same-sex relationship.
But, shortly after they married, Benton began to identify as a man, calling himself Lynn Edward.
Debbie wasn’t happy about his transition and they separated.
But that still didn’t prove Benton wanted her dead.
Benton was a law enforcer, a well-respected citizen of the town. It seemed ridiculous that he’d plotted his wife’s murder simply because she hadn’t supported his sex change.
His defence argued that Lynn had no motive for wanting his wife Debbie dead, and claimed that Susan Campbell was untrustworthy. She’d even admitted herself that she was a liar.
Her story had changed several times during police investigations. She’d told detectives she had trouble recalling details and revealed her drug use at the time of the murder.
Had her story about Benton’s involvement been one big lie?
Prosecutors didn’t think so. They argued that Lynn Benton wanted his wife dead because he feared she’d make allegations of abuse against him. He was afraid she’d ruin his career.
It was revealed Debbie had been seeing a counsellor for depression before her death, believed to be brought on by her fear of Benton.
Phone records also proved Campbell had phoned Benton shortly after Debbie was shot.
Benton claimed that Campbell had been acting as a peacemaker, to help him and Debbie reconcile. That, he claimed, was the reason why he’d spoken to Campbell before his wife was found dead.
But prosecutors argued that Benton had conspired with Campbell to have
Debbie killed, and paid her to carry out the murder.
However, there was no evidence that Campbell had received any money. Benton’s defence urged jurors to use ‘common sense’ and reject the prosecution’s theories.
And so the jury retired to consider the case…
Last October, Lynn Benton, 54, was found guilty of aggravated murder, conspiracy to commit aggravated murder, and attempted murder in the death of his wife. He was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Speaking of his sister after the sentencing, Debbie’s brother Tony Stephens said, ‘Her big heart, her big giant laughter, she would do anything for anybody.’
Susan Campbell and Jason Jaynes’ cases are yet to be heard.