0
Votes

Mistrial Is Declared; Helem To Be Retried

They gave it their best shot and took their duties seriously. But after a 4 1/2-day trial and 3 1/2 days of deliberating, the jurors trying to decide Charles Helem's guilt or innocence simply could not do it.

As a result, late Thursday afternoon, June 26, Fairfax County Circuit Court Judge Stanley Klein declared a mistrial — and Helem will once again have to stand trial for the April 2002 murder of Chantilly's Patricia Bentley.

Naturally, said defense attorney Bill Reichhardt, on Friday, he wanted his client to be acquitted. "I'm disappointed that it was a hung jury," he said. "[But] it was a difficult case, and I give a lot of credit to the jury for working as hard as it did."

BENTLEY, A 37-YEAR-OLD, single mother of two boys, now 17 and 9, drove a school bus in South Riding for Loudoun County Schools. She'd planned to go shopping Saturday, April 6, 2002, with her friend Alesia Robinson.

But sometime between Friday night, April 5 and the next morning, someone ended Bentley's life. She was found by her older son and Robinson, Saturday around 9 a.m., slain in the bedroom of her Brookfield townhouse. Her children were spending the weekend at their grandmother's house in Centreville, so she was alone with the killer.

Whether that killer was her former boyfriend, Helem, 33, of 8100 Pointer Lane, Manassas, is still a mystery. Police arrested him Sept. 18 and charged him with the crime, but he continues to maintain his innocence and — even after a trial — a jury of six men and six women was unable to reach a verdict.

Helem lived with Bentley in her townhouse from November 2001 to January 2002. Admitting that the couple had a "tumultuous relationship," Reichhardt said Helem eventually moved to Manassas, where he lived with a woman named June Stokely. But some of his exercise clothes were still in Bentley's home and she let him keep coming over to use her treadmill.

The known facts, according to Northern Virginia medical examiner Frances Field, are that Bentley was strangled two ways — with a phone cord and an extension cord, as well as someone's hands or crook of an arm around her neck. She was also beaten by her assailant, sustaining bruises on her arms, legs and lower chest, plus hemorrhaging inside her head caused by blunt-force trauma.

She was found lying face down, on some exercise clothing, on her bedroom floor. An exact time of death has not been determined and — instead of shedding light on what led up to Bentley's murder — the evidence presented and the witnesses testifying in the case provided various scenarios of what could have happened and caused the jurors confusion.

* HELEM'S DNA WAS found on her breasts and abdomen, Dr. James McClintock, owner of a DNA consulting firm, testified that Helem's DNA would still be in the home from when he'd lived there and could have transferred to Bentley's body when she came into contact with his exercise clothes on the floor or from an exercise shirt of his that she was wearing when she died.

Yet Forensic biologist Kelly Ledbetter testified, "For the DNA to transfer through the clothing or carpet — through the victim's bra — to the breast would be impossible."

* Helem's cell-phone records placed him in Fairfax County on April 5, near Bentley's home. Yet he told police he hadn't seen her for three weeks and, under cross-examining from Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Kimberly Pace, he acknowledged not being totally honest with the authorities.

He also admitted having keys to Bentley's house, although he'd initially denied it. Asked Pace: "There were things you told Det. [John] Wallace that you knew weren't true?" Answered Helem: "That's right." And when Pace caught him in other lies, his reply was, "It slipped my mind."

* Ledbetter testified that the phone cord contained Bentley's fingerprints, plus prints that couldn't be identified. McClintock excluded Helem as a DNA contributor on the phone cord and said DNA from an unknown person was found on it.

He noted that, with pressure, it would take just 60 seconds for a DNA profile to be left on an object. And he said some of the sites on the phone cord where the foreign DNA was collected show this DNA "was a major contributor" to the DNA found on that cord.

* The sliding-glass door to Bentley's home was found unlocked. A receipt dated April 5, 11:56 a.m., from a Food Lion in North Carolina was found in her wastebasket, but it's not known how it got there.

* And Helem inferred that, before Bentley had moved into her townhouse, the previous tenants were possibly involved in drug-dealing.

He testified that, while he lived there, "All kinds of guys would come to the house on Fridays and Saturdays. But they'd leave once [Bentley] told them the person they wanted didn't live there no longer." He said that's why he bought new locks for Bentley's protection when he moved out.

IN HER CLOSING ARGUMENT to the jury, Pace reiterated all of Helem's lies. She also noted a record of a cell-phone call Helem made April 5 at 11:55 p.m. to Bentley and which experts testified had come from Chantilly.

Earlier, Helem said that, whenever he visited Bentley, he'd have to call her ahead so she could come outside and give him a visitor's parking pass. Said Pace: "The defendant corroborates all his cell-phone calls, except for the 11:55 one — the most incriminating one because it's the one that allows him to clear entrance to the house."

Since Helem was the major contributor to the DNA on Bentley's breasts, Pace contended that, "The defendant's DNA got on the victim's body when he killed her." Helem's DNA profile, she stressed, couldn't have been the major contributor "if it only came from her shirt."

Then Pace asked the jurors to consider why he lied to the detective about having Bentley's keys. "How hard is it to tell the truth, if he didn't commit the crime?" she asked. "When you put all the pieces of the puzzle together, it becomes crystal clear that [Helem] killed her."

In defense attorney Reichhardt's closing argument, he called it "an extremely tragic case," but said Helem's innocent. He noted that the top drawer of a dresser in Bentley's bedroom had been pulled out and was upside down with clothes piled up. And he said Bentley's tenant had paid his rent to her, April 5, but "no purse, wallet or money were found at the crime scene."

Regarding the grocery receipt, Reichhardt said, "It's not a great leap to determine that somebody who was in Patricia Bentley's house, April 5, put a receipt from North Carolina in her trash can. Who is it?" Furthermore, he said, "A fingerprint analysis was done, and Helem's fingerprints weren't found."

Reichhardt said Helem's keys were to the old locks and he didn't know Bentley had been unable to put on a new deadbolt and his old key would still work; he thought she'd changed both locks. Reichhardt also touched on the death, itself.

"THE CRIME SCENE was horrific and violent," he said. "There was evidence of contusions and abrasions on her limbs, consistent with a struggle. Nobody at the police station observes any cuts or bruises on Helem or asks to look at his arms — 12-24 hours after [the crime]."

At various times during their deliberations, the jurors asked questions of the judge or asked to see particular items of evidence again. Last Thursday, June 26, they threw in the towel.

"They told the judge they felt, at that point, they were hopelessly deadlocked and couldn't reach a decision," said Reichhardt. "Judge Klein then made sure they all believed they couldn't reach a verdict, and he declared a mistrial."

Both sides were to meet with Klein, early this week, to set another trial date. Noting that his client's been in jail "a long time," Reichhardt hopes the new trial will be held "within the next two months." All in all, he said, "It's a real ordeal for [Helem], for the Commonwealth and for Patricia Bentley's family."