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Enraged by assault, man kills guest but escapes charges

Sometimes a man can kill another and walk away free _ even if he admits what he did.

Take, for example, the man who invited William Wayne Bennett to share his home. Bennett, 46, was an alcoholic and homeless. His benefactor was married with two young daughters. The family members say they felt sorry for Bennett.

But several months later, early on the morning of last Dec. 29, Bennett was beaten and kicked to death by his host. The man acknowledged to police what he did. He admitted it to prosecutors, and to a grand jury. As late as this week, he repeated the admission to a reporter.

Yet two weeks ago, a Hillsborough grand jury found no probable cause to indict the man, despite the following evidence, recently released by the state attorney's office:

Bennett wasn't killed in self-defense but in a fit of rage after the host's wife told him that Bennett had sexually assaulted their daughters, ages 2 and 8. A medical exam determined the 8-year-old had been assaulted.

Bennett was beaten to death in his sleep after his host tracked him to an alley near the family's apartment. The killer admitted that he probably knocked out Bennett with the first blow, a kick to the head; Bennett never raised his hands to defend himself.

The man who killed Bennett has a prior record, including a conviction for felony assault in Missouri in 1984, according to FBI records. He was sentenced to one year in jail.

The outcome of the grand jury hearing left Bennett's family angry.

"We feel so much hate," said Bennett's sister, Betty Swofford, of Lawton, Okla. "I pray every night for the Lord to forgive me for feeling this way, but I want that man to suffer like we're suffering, like Wayne suffered."

Meanwhile, the 27-year-old man who killed Bennett said his daughters have been struggling to deal with the sexual assaults. They are undergoing counseling. The older girl has been taken from school because her grades have dropped. Her father says he feels justified in defending his family.

"I wasn't trying to kill him," the man said Tuesday. "I wanted him to go in the pen (prison), not die. I wanted him to hurt, like he hurt my daughters."

The man is not being named to protect the identity of his daughters.

Prosecutors took the case before the grand jury, which has the final word.

"We don't know what the testimony was in the grand jury," said chief assistant state attorney Chris Hoyer, "... whether it was different from what they told the police or what they told you. If there were circumstances of homicide, then the grand jury would have found it out."

According to interviews with the family, police reports and prosecutor's interviews, this is what happened:

On Oct. 31, the couple, Bennett and two friends got drunk and passed out in the couple's living room. The woman later said that while she slept, Bennett undid her bra and unzipped her pants. When she woke up, Bennett apologized and said that he'd had too much to drink.

A day later, the 8-year-old girl told her mother that Bennett had come into her bedroom the night before and stuck his tongue into her mouth.

The woman told her husband about the two incidents.

"We couldn't believe he would do something like that," the husband said this week.

Bennett was allowed to stay, but the couple ordered him not to go into either of their apartment's two bedrooms _ ever, according to the husband.

Nevertheless, according to a police interview with the woman, Bennett went into the girls' bedroom again on the night of Dec. 28. The woman told detectives that she walked in on Bennett and discovered him molesting the 2-year-old. She told Bennett he would have to get out in the morning. The mother didn't tell her husband until he awoke at 7 a.m.

The husband became angry and stalked out to search for Bennett, finding him sleeping in an alley behind El Cheapo Carpets, 1032 E Hillsborough Ave.

Police say the assailant pummeled Bennett, kicking him at least five times in the head. The man went back home and told his wife what he'd done. She called paramedics, who found Bennett barely breathing.

Bennett died at 9:46 a.m. in the alley.

"The police knew what happened before they came and got me," the man recalled. "I didn't try to lie."

Police reports and family members say Bennett had been a drifter for a decade. He was arrested five times across Florida _ four times for trespassing and one time for disorderly conduct _ between 1983 and 1989.

Mrs. Swofford said her brother began drinking shortly after their mother's death in 1979 and drifted between the family home in Georgia and west-central Florida.

Sometime in the past four months, he checked into Mental Health Care Inc. in Tampa, according to Alice Foster, another sister from Douglas, Ga. An official with Mental Health declined to confirm that report.

Bennett was beaten twice in the past year, according to police records. Last February, two men hit him on the head, demanded his wallet, and when they failed to get it, hit him again. He was beaten by three men in May for no apparent reason. His assailants ran after punching him several times.

Both times, he was on Nebraska Avenue, and he was drunk, police reports say.

Bennett's killer also had problems with the law. In the mid-1980s, according to FBI records, the man was charged with stealing, possession of stolen property and vehicle theft in Illinois, Missouri and Kansas.

An FBI rap sheet says he was sentenced to a year in jail for a felony second-degree assault conviction in Hannibal, Mo. Marion County, Mo., court officials said the person charged with the assault gave a different name. Marion County police officials refused to release any information on the case.

He says he feels sorry for Bennett's family. But he adds, "You don't know what you're going to do until it happens to you.

"Even if I was sentenced, things would still be the same. Wayne would be dead, and my daughters would still be suffering."