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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

New Details in Katie Wilkins Case Add to Growing List of Questions


BY ANNE SOBLE

According to the county coroner’s office, an official cause of death for Katherine Jessie Wilkins is still deferred; and family members await completion of forensic testing they hope will offer some insight into what happened before April 28 when the 25-year-old’s lifeless body was discovered on the garage floor of the family home.
In an interview with the Malibu Surfside News this week, Rob and Diane Wilkins, the parents of the young woman everyone called Katie, reflected on the difficulty of coping with her death and the frustration over how long the official forensic analysis process takes. It is this process, however, that may provide the means to shed light on the circumstances surrounding Katie Wilkins’ last hours.
The attractive graphic designer’s missing silver BMW has been returned to the family, minus its unaccounted for keys, but results of fingerprint dusting and an examination of the vehicle have not been disclosed.
Rob Wilkins said the contents of his daughter’s purse appeared to “be strewn on the floor of the driver’s side of the car,” as if someone was looking for something, but Diane Wilkins noted that the purse itself and her daughter’s billfold were found in the house. Her husband said, “I doubt the police would have done that,” but the scattered belongings are one more piece in a complex puzzle.
Adding a disturbing new dimension to the case, family members told The News that Wilkins’ clothing appeared to be in a state of partial removal, which had not been made public until now.
Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Homicide Bureau detective Tim O’Quinn corroborated the clothing specifics disclosed by the family and said DNA analysis and other testing has been requested to determine whether this is related to what transpired before Wilkins’ death.
However, the lead homicide detective on the case has indicated there are a number of explanations for how her clothing could have been pulled loose or down, and as O’Quinn has steadfastly done in every interview, he discouraged speculation until completion of all of the lab work.
One hypothesis he proffered was clothing might have been snagged and pulled if Wilkins’ body was dragged from another location to the garage. If so, this raises other new questions, such as was Wilkins alive when she was moved; whether she was alive or dead, why would someone want to move her body; if she was moved, where was she moved from; and who moved her?
The Wilkins family continues to focus attention on the person they think has answers to at least some of the growing list of questions about Katie Wilkins’ death, 27-year-old Christopher Benton, the son of the president of Pepperdine University, whose drug troubled past intersected with Wilkins when she turned to drugs in a state of depression that her family believes she had begun to get under control as far back as 2009.
Ostensibly assuring Wilkins that he too was now off drugs, Benton set up a meeting with her. Family and law enforcement believe he was at the family home, but anything beyond that cannot be corroborated because Benton has been sequestered and refuses to speak with anyone on the advice of legal counsel, even though he faces no criminal charges and none are anticipated at this time.
Family members allege Benton fled the Wilkins home in her car when the young woman had a major heroin reaction or died. As to whether drugs were self-administered, O’Quinn reiterated that any conjecture at this point is “speculation,” even as he confirmed needle marks were found on Wilkins’ right arm and the young woman was right-handed.
O’Quinn told The News a case can only be taken to the DA with “what we can prove beyond a reasonable doubt.” He said, “Reasonable suspicion is not enough…cold, hard evidence is required.”
The detective explained, “Without a witness, or an admission, it would take something like the presence of a date-rape drug in her system to try to make a case for involuntary manslaughter.”
The dead woman’s brother, Steve Wilkins, has become an outspoken advocate for Chris Benton to come forward and tell what he knows. He also expresses the family’s concern that Katie Wilkins’ former drug use could result in misplaced prejudgment of her behavior.
O’Quinn acknowledged, “Any drug history raises issues…we have a girl who used heroin,” and he said that cannot be ignored. He noted, “Former heroin addicts who take the same dose they used [prior to going clean] could have a fatal reaction...because they have lost all tolerance to heroin.”
Steve Wilkins counters, “Katie was a wonderful person who had drug issues in her past, Chris [Benton] at this time has revealed a lot about the kind of person he is in the moment. Chris’s recent actions are much more suspicious relating to Katie’s death than Katie’s past drug issues are.”
As her brother has previously stated in this context, “Katie did not like and was discomforted with the thought of people who may judge her on her past issues with heroin and cocaine.”
Steve Wilkins has stressed, “Overcoming difficulties in life was a part of [Katie’s] story, [but] not her [whole] story. She was able to come out from the other side of these difficulties with a sculpted life view that enabled her to help and understand others through a willingness to become vulnerable with those who were having difficulties themselves. This beautiful gift she shared with others, her willingness to become vulnerable for the benefit of another, in my belief led to her death.”
The members of the Wilkins family are adamant their focus will not waver from determining whether criminal behavior led to the death of a young woman who appeared to be on the threshold of newfound self-awareness and excitement about her future.
Diane Wilkins said, “I am praying for some answers…the death of my daughter has challenged everything I believed and thought.” She said, “We are going to do everything we can do to keep another family from going through this.”

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