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Wednesday, May 08, 2013

County DA Says There Is Not Enough Evidence to File Charges in Katie Wilkins Heroin ‘Overdose’ Death—LASD File Is Now Closed

• DDA’s Assessment Contends that ‘Moral’ Guilt Does Not Meet Legal Requirements to Seek Prosecution

BY ANNE SOBLE

The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office confirmed reports this week that it will not file felony charges in the heroin overdose death of Katie Wilkins, the 25-year-old Malibu graphic designer who was found dead in her family’s residence on April 28, 2012.
Felony charges of involuntary manslaughter related to Wilkins death and charges of taking a vehicle without owner’s consent had been proposed by Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Homicide Detective Tim O’Quinn against Christopher Benton, the son of Pepperdine University president Andrew Benton.
O’Quinn, who bird-dogged the lengthy and complex investigation, signed off the case this week, closing the file on possible felony filing.
Benton, 28, knew Wilkins during a time dating back to Malibu High School when she engaged in drug use that family members said had been under control for several years. He is currently serving a two-year prison term for threatening his father with a gun stolen from the family residence on the Pepperdine campus.
The case was reviewed by Deputy District Attorney William Ryder who wrote: “It is noted that almost every fact that needs to be proven in this case is based upon circumstantial evidence. As such, in the legal analysis of this case, one must keep in mind the rules of evidence as they impact burden of proof and in particular the following standard jury instruction:  If the circumstantial evidence permits two reasonable interpretations, one of which point to defendant’s guilt and the other to his innocence, the jury must adopt the one that points to innocence and reject the one that points to guilt.”
Ryder stated, “With this point of law in mind, it becomes clear that while one interpretation of the evidence would imply that the suspect is guilty of manslaughter, that does not constitute sufficient evidence that would warrant a jury in finding the suspect guilty.”
With regard to a possible role by Benton in injecting Wilkins with the lethal heroin dose, Ryder indicated, “When a person dies as the proximate result of injecting heroin in a group setting, the attachment of homicide liability requires that a member of the group or someone else present engaged in conduct or performed some act that proximately caused the victim’s death or it requires that the person sought to be charged negligently failed to aid the victim when they had a legal duty to do so.”
The DDA explained that “selling, furnishing or administering heroin to the victim [only would] come under the so-called Misdemeanor Manslaughter Rule if we can prove that a suspect engaged in affirmative conduct that assisted the victim in some way in her ingestion of heroin, such that he would be guilty...as an aider and abettor...but in this case, there is insufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a suspect performed some act or engaged in any conduct beyond simply being present in the victim’s house at or about the time that she ingested heroin, collapsed and  died.”
Ryder said, “Mere presence at the scene of a crime does not constitute aiding and abetting in the commission of that crime. While the presence of needle marks in the right arm of the right-handed victim suggests that someone other than the victim injected the heroin into her arm, that fact alone does not constitute proof beyond a reasonable doubt that someone else injected her or otherwise assisted her. And as stated previously, it is not known if other people were present who could have been the ones who purportedly assisted her with the injection. For the same reason, it is not known whether the suspect is the person who drove away the victim’s BMW insofar as a possible DWOC or auto theft charge.”
The DDA added that with “regard to possible ‘negligent manslaughter’ liability under the theory that a suspect failed to render aid or call 911 which might have saved the victim’s life, the case of People v. Oliver (1989) 210 Cal.App.3d 138 restates the long-established legal principle that a person has no legal duty, in tort law or in criminal law, to save someone who is in peril unless the person has acted in a way that created or increased a risk of injury to the victim or that created a dependency relationship, inducing reliance or preventing assistance from others.”
Ryder added, “Even assuming a suspect was present and simply witnessed the victim’s ingestion of heroin and subsequent collapse, while he may have had a moral duty to assist the victim, he had no legal duty to do so and, as such, he cannot be found guilty.”
Wilkins’ brother Steve, who found his sister’s lifeless body in the garage of the family home, told the Malibu Surfside News, “I’m very disappointed. It’s not much of a question of who dragged Katie [into the garage] and stole her car.”
He said, “It’s difficult to not take a cynical look at this [and see] that, as an ex-convict [with three felony convictions], Chris did not want to get in trouble and had he helped [the LASD], he might have been in some.”
Steve Wilkins said Benton’s behavior “was unconscionable, but clearly it was a measured step felt appropriate and then justified time and again by a few who are close to Chris Benton and the well-being of his family.”

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