On this date, January 31, 1993, Judith Gabbard was murdered by Michael Benge. Benge was executed by lethal injection in Ohio on October 6, 2010. Unit 1012 will remember her and post a quote from her sister, Kathy Johnson.
INTERNET SOURCE: http://www.clarkprosecutor.org/html/death/US/benge1229.htm
In the early morning hours of February 1, 1993, a car belonging to Judith Gabbard, Michael W. Benge's live-in girlfriend, was found abandoned on the west side of the Miami River in Hamilton, Ohio. The vehicle was found near the river with the front passenger-side tire stuck in a gully. After the vehicle was towed to the impound lot, the tow-truck operator observed blood on the front bumper and passenger side of the car and notified the police. The police returned to the area where the car was found and discovered the body of Judith Gabbard in the Miami River. Her body had been weighed down with a thirty-five pound piece of concrete which had been placed upon her head and chest. One of the pockets on the jacket Judith was wearing was empty and turned inside out. She still had in her possession her checkbook, cash and jewelry.
The police retrieved a tire iron, or lug wrench, from the river approximately twelve to fifteen feet from where Judith's body was found. A jack and spare tire were found in Judith's trunk, but no lug wrench was discovered. Police removed lug nuts from the vehicle, which were sent to a laboratory and compared with the lug wrench. Although no positive match was made, the lug nuts did bear markings which were similar to the lug wrench. The police gathered other physical evidence from the scene which was also tested by a forensic laboratory. Strands of hair and type A blood (which both Judith and Benge had) were found on the driver's side front tire. Smears of blood were also discovered above the passenger-side headlight and on the fender. Police also found a pool of blood with a tire track through it and blood contained in the tire treads. According to one of the investigative detectives, this evidence indicated that the car had been driven through the blood and through the hair of the victim.
An autopsy was performed, which revealed that the victim had suffered a number of blows to the head with a long blunt object which produced pattern abrasions and multiple skull fractures, one of which was circular in nature. According to the coroner, the victim died of brain injuries secondary to multiple skull fractures which were inflicted with a blunt object.
The police apprehended Benge the next day, on February 2, 1993. When the detectives approached Benge on the street, they observed him drop Judith Gabbard's ATM card to the ground. They picked up the card, arrested Benge, and took him into the station for questioning. After being read his Miranda warnings, Benge agreed to talk to the detectives. Benge told police that two black men in a Bronco had chased him and Judith to the river and that their car had gotten stuck. Benge claimed that one of the men injured Judith and took her ATM card while the other held him at gunpoint, demanding the ATM code word. When Benge refused to tell him, the man returned the ATM card to him. Benge escaped by jumping into the river. As he swam away, he heard Judith screaming as the men beat her.
The detectives told Benge they did not believe his story. Benge told them he thought he should talk to a lawyer. The questioning ceased at that point. A short time later, Benge told police he was willing to talk. Benge signed a Miranda warning card indicating that he waived his Miranda rights. Benge then gave the police a tape-recorded statement in which he recounted a different version of what happened the night before. Benge told police that he had driven to the riverbank with Judith so that they could talk. He said that they had argued over the fact that he was addicted to crack cocaine. Judith also accused him of being unfaithful to her. Benge then said he got out of the vehicle to urinate. At that point, he said Judith tried to run him down, but the car got stuck in the mud. Benge said that he became enraged, pulled Judith out of the car, and began beating her with a metal pipe he found lying on the ground. Benge said he threw her body into the river, face down, disposed of the weapon and swam across the river. He did not recall whether he put any rocks or cement on her body. Benge then went to the home of his friend, John Fuller, to get dry clothes, which Fuller's fiancee, Awantha Shields, provided.
During this second interrogation, Benge was questioned about the ATM card, why he had dropped it when he saw the police, and whether he had used it after killing Judith. Benge said he threw down the card because he was scared and he knew he would not need it anymore. He also told police that he had not used the card since he killed Judith, although he did allow a man by the name of Baron Carr to use the card once to get money to purchase crack cocaine. Benge claimed that the only reason he had the card in his possession was because he and Judith had used it on January 31, 1993 before they went out that evening. However, the police discovered through retrieving ATM records that no transaction had taken place on January 31, 1993 and that two transactions were made following Judith's death; on February 1, 1993 at 2:45 a.m., a $200 withdrawal was made, and on February 2, 1993 at 12:01 a.m., another $200 was withdrawn.
Benge was indicted on one count of aggravated murder committed for the purpose of escaping detection for another offense and committed during the commission of an aggravated robbery as well as for aggravated robbery and gross abuse of a corpse. Benge pleaded no contest to gross abuse of a corpse. The case proceeded to trial on the other charges. At trial, the state called Awantha Shields, who testified that in the early morning hours of February 1, 1993, Benge arrived at the house she shared with John Fuller, wearing wet clothes and asking for John. Benge also asked her if she had ever killed anyone. He then told her that he and his girlfriend had "got into it" earlier, that it blew over, and that they went to the river bank. He then told her that they had started fighting and that he hit her in the head no more than ten times with a crowbar, put rocks over her head and pushed her in the river. Benge told her that he had killed his girlfriend to get her "Jeanie" card. He also said that if the police questioned him he would lie and say that a couple of black guys jumped him and his girlfriend and beat his girlfriend up. He also told her that he had given her ATM card to a guy named Baron to get $200 to buy crack cocaine but that he never saw the money. Larry Carter testified that he and Baron Carr ran into Benge in the early morning of February 1, 1993. Benge, whose clothes were wet, asked Carter to excuse how he smelled but that he had just swum in the river. Carter thought Benge was kidding. Benge told him he had given John $20 to buy crack cocaine for him and said that he could get more money. Carter drove Benge and Carr to a Society Bank where Benge withdrew $200 from an ATM; Carter then bought crack cocaine for Benge. Carter later drove Benge to Fuller's house. Later that next night, Carter and Baron Carr withdrew another $200 from Judith's account using her ATM card so that they could buy drugs for Benge. However, to avoid giving the drugs or money to Benge, the two men conjured up a story and told Benge that his girlfriend had closed the account. Benge insisted that she had not.
Benge took the stand on his own behalf and reiterated what he had told police during his second interrogation, including that Judith had tried to run him down and that he was in a rage when he killed her. Benge also claimed that he had permission to use Judith's ATM card and did not rob her. On cross-examination, he admitted losing his job in January 1993 due to his crack cocaine habit and that he had no income at the time he killed Judith. Benge was convicted of all counts and specifications. Thereafter, the jury recommended that he be sentenced to death, and that recommendation was accepted by the trial court. The court of appeals affirmed Benge's convictions and death sentence.
“We have been waiting for this for 17 years,” the Morgan Twp. woman said. “It makes us feel there was justice for my sister. Now my sister can rest in peace.”
Kathy Johnson, sister of Judith Gabbard