Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Convicted of vicious beating but still walking free

James Eric Benham, convicted of beating an unarmed and innocent US civilian so severely as to require surgical implants to save his victim's face and vision, has still served no time two years after the brutal assault. Benham due for General Discharge from the Navy in Nov '08.

read more | digg story


The author of the blog post that I submitted to Digg.com - James Howard - has been a friend of mine for more than a decade, and is a man for whose intelligence, honesty and honor I will vouch without hesitation.

On September 16, 2006, Mr. Howard, his wife, and another married couple went out for dinner. That evening Mr. Howard and his party became unprovoked physical targets for James Benham and his brother Chris'* bigoted, ignorant hatred. Mr. Howard was especially savagely beaten.

Excerpts from James Howard's statement to the court:
I have been granted this opportunity to make a statement about the impact to my life:

Where do I begin…

The immediate impact to my life was the painful recovery for an un-naturally sustained set of injuries. A broken nose, a split lip, internal and external stitches, the surgical implant of two small titanium screws in my skull that hold my eye in place with a synthetic mesh are all undeniable. Clear sight did not fully return to my right eye for nearly a month. Nausea and dizziness were persistent during the time of my physical recovery, as the lack of depth perception and blurred vision in combination with the prescribed anti-inflammatory and pain killers was for me, an unpleasant cocktail consisting of mandatory, hard to swallow pills with a shopping list of encountered side effects. Headaches from reading, even with corrective lenses, persist to this day like never before, and it affects my capacity to be fully productive at my work. Sadly, I no longer read or write for pleasure...

* * *

I will begin by saying I am not a victim, but rather a survivor. I am survivor of both the brutal attack that night as well as the legal process which provided Mr. Benham with the ability to harass my friends and neighbors while his paid legal team and investigators worked to vilify us in the eyes of the public and the eyes of the court. I have neighbors still upset over the visitations by his investigators...

* * *

... he and his brother pursued our group as prey, for no reason other than we were different and because we would make no response to the provocative statements and actions he persisted in.

When his threats and directives were directed to a young lady of our group who sought to defuse the matter and report the crime in progress, he violently and continuously assaulted me for defending her right to call the police. He then fled.

I have no desire to re-live the brutal detail of the assault by James Eric Benham and his brother that night. I re-live the event every morning of my life as I stare at a surgically re-constructed reflection of myself who is forever changed by the memory of that night.

If it not been for the intervention of several there that night, I would not be able to recount the events that transpired. James Eric Benham would not have stopped his attack of his own accord. He was pulled off me by several people, as was his brother, who had no visible intent in ceasing their blows...

Read the full statement here

Note: There is a follow up post regarding the pending lawsuit against the Benham brothers here. It includes a photo of Mr. Howard after the assault, which may be a bit graphic for delicate readers.

The defense tried to make much of the fact that Benham's victims were all members of the goth subculture, in hope of somehow justifying Benham's brutal behavior. But even if you're biased against goths (and if you are, you're reading the wrong blog - I'm an unashamed old goth despite no longer looking the part) we're talking about a small party of civilized adults out for a social evening together, not an armed gang of unruly rabble out looking for trouble.

I can only imagine how much pain a former Navy SEAL can inflict in a violent, uninhibited, alcohol-fueled attack. My friend, James Howard, knows the answer only too well.

The law abiding people who now live with their memories and scars from that night continue to wait for closure, because James Eric Benham is still free to go about his daily life without hindrance. It is now just shy of two years since that horrible night. And almost one year since the jury that tried James Benham in a civilian court convicted him. But the sentencing phase of his trial is still on hold until he finishes his term of service in the US Navy, to protect his status in the military.**

That the presiding judge provided such extreme accommodation for Benham's career after his reprehensible behavior and criminal convictions (2 felony convictions and 2 misdemeanor) is simply disgusting, and shows no compassion for Benham's victims.

Meanwhile, the US fails to properly support so many of our military veterans and their families who have served our country with honor and self-sacrifice in uniform, and honored the country they served by doing their best to be upstanding citizens.

This mockery of justice is yet another example of the maladjusted morals of the Powers That Be.

From the San Diego Weekly Reader:
Clothing Maketh the Goth?

By Jay Allen Sanford | Published Wednesday, July 23, 2008

It’s been almost a year since James Benham, a former Navy SEAL, was found guilty of two felony counts of assault. He’s still yet to be sentenced for those crimes and two misdemeanor counts related to a September 2006 attack on a few local goths in Old Town.

“I was called a gothic faggot,” says James Howard, who asserts that the unprovoked assault on him, Mark and Lora Williams, and area deejay Robin Roth resulted in over $25,000 in medical bills.

“The defense tried to play the ‘they were scary goths’ card,” says Howard. “So we all showed up to the trial wearing exactly what we wore the night of the incident, which was pretty damn tame because we were dressed to go to dinner. In Benham’s version of the story, I was wearing a leather trench coat, steel-toed boots, and leather pants. Yeah, right, in mid-September? The only detail they got right was that I was wearing all black and had an earring.”

Howard says the judge “…saw fit to extend a continuance of sentencing, until Mr. Benham serves out the remainder of his term in the Navy.” That means Benham won’t face sentencing any sooner than November 20.

“If any of us had been found guilty of such a hideous crime, we would have immediate sentencing [and] lose our jobs,” says Howard. “Justice was soft-served. Even though I have physically recovered from the assault, the psychological effects still remain.”

Howard, a member of the Gothic Volunteer Alliance, says his organization provides community services such as fundraisers for the SPCA, the Humane Society, and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. The group takes part in graffiti removal, voter-registration drives, and its next beach cleanup takes place August 3 at South Mission Beach.

– Jay Allen Sanford

Read the original article and reader comments here.

*Chris Benham has not been convicted for his role in the attack. He has admitted to participating in the assault, though according to Mr. Howard's post yesterday, criminal charges have not yet been served.

**Uniform Code Of Military Justice, Subchapter X - Punitive Articles, Section 928. Art. 128. Assault (U.S. Code as of: 01/19/04)

(a) Any person subject to this chapter who attempts or offers
with unlawful force or violence to do bodily harm to another
person, whether or not the attempt or offer is consummated, is
guilty of assault and shall be punished as a court-martial may

(b) Any person subject to this chapter who -
(1) commits an assault with a dangerous weapon or other means
or force likely to produce death or grievous bodily harm; or
(2) commits an assault and intentionally inflicts grievous
bodily harm with or without a weapon;
is guilty of aggravated assault and shall be punished as a
court-martial may direct.

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