PORTLAND — Defense lawyers for a Portland teenager sentenced Thursday to 18 years in prison say it was their decision to delay divulging where he dumped the body of a 14-year-old he’d shot to death.
The revelation in court Thursday stunned and angered relatives of Yashanee Vaughn.
After she disappeared in March 2011, the family searched four months for her body.
“They let her lay in the dirt and decompose for four months and you knew where she was?” Vaughn’s great-aunt Marsha Hayes cried out in court. “Where’s the justice for that? That’s sick.”
Thomas MacNair, one of the lawyers for Parrish Bennette Jr., spoke about the decision at the hearing on a plea bargain, The Oregonian reported.
“A decision was made to delay that — that was made by his lawyers, not by him, in accordance with our sworn duty to zealously defend Mr. Bennette,” MacNair said. “We want the Vaughn family to accept our sympathy and our regret for the additional pain that the family had to endure because of that decision.”
Judge Eric Bergstrom, who helped negotiate the plea bargain, told The Oregonian afterward that Bennette told him he had always wanted to reveal where he buried Vaughn’s body, but he followed his attorneys’ advice.
Police said Bennette shot Vaughn in his bedroom on March 19, 2011. He was accused on March 31. On July 15, Bennette led police to where he had buried Vaughn’s body, on the northeast Portland hill Rocky Butte.
Vaughn’s aunt, Shawntae Hayes, addressed Bennette in court: “I hope you thank God for sparing your life because my precious niece’s life wasn’t. Because you didn’t let us know where she was, we couldn’t give her that last kiss on her cheek to lay her to rest.”
Bennette, now 17, said little during the hearing. He answered Bergstrom’s questions with “yeah.” He didn’t make eye contact with Vaughn’s family.
Although family members have said they don’t believe that Bennette acted alone, prosecutor Brian Davidson said in court that detectives turned up no evidence that Bennette had accomplices.
In deciding to make a plea bargain, Davidson said, prosecutors considered Bennette’s age, that he had no prior criminal convictions, and the risk that the defense would argue the killing was an accident and get an acquittal.