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Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Son of Pepperdine President Pleads No Contest to Two Felony Charges

BY ANNE SOBLE

Christopher Benton, the son of Pepperdine University President Andrew Benton, has pleaded no contest to two felony charges of making criminal threats and possession of a firearm by a narcotic addict, according to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office.
Benton, 27, entered his plea last Friday prior to a preliminary hearing on a total of five felony charges getting underway in Van Nuys Municipal Court.
No contest, or nolo contendere, is a plea in which a defendant in a criminal prosecution accepts conviction as though a guilty plea has been entered but does not admit guilt.
Sources close to the case said the plea deal will avoid having to “put [Benton’s] parents on the stand to testify against their son” and indicates that concern about the toll of a trial on the Benton family “may have weighed in the decision.”
Benton is slated to be sentenced to two years in state prison by Judge Karen Nudell when he returns to the Van Nuys court on Sept. 21, according to Deputy District Attorney Rena Durrant.
County legal observers indicate that Benton will likely serve from 15 to 18 months because of prison overcrowding and related issues.
Benton is currently being represented by an alternate public defender. Although his family retained a high-profile criminal attorney when the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department endeavored to question him about the heroin overdose death of 25-year-old Malibu graphic designer Katie Wilkins in April, that legal arrangement was not continued for the current charges.
According to county procedure, because Benton is unable to post bail, there’s a presumption that he cannot afford counsel. Benton is not known to have income in his own right. He was last reported to have been living in the university president’s official residence on campus.
According to the District Attorney’s Office announcement, Benton admitted “threatening his father at the family’s home on the Malibu campus on Aug. 22 during a family argument.” He returned to campus the next day and was arrested and charged with the five felony counts. Of these, three counts—criminal threats against his mother, grand theft of his parents’ handgun, and possession of ammunition by an addict, are expected to be dismissed at his sentencing next week.
A two-count misdemeanor complaint of being under the influence of a controlled substance and driving without a valid driver license from October 2011 may be packaged in the arrangement.
Benton’s legal problems—most illegal drug related—date back more than a decade. He has three felony convictions for illegal substance use/sale and related charges dating from 2003 to 2009.

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