Son of Pepperdine Prexy Pleads Not Guilty to Felony Charges
• Christopher Benton Is Currently Being Represented by an Alternate Public Defender Attorney
BY ANNE SOBLE
At his arraignment hearing last week in Van Nuys Superior Court, Christopher Benton, 27, pleaded not guilty to five felony counts stemming from criminal threats made against his parents, Pepperdine University president Andrew Benton and his wife Deborah, and theft of a handgun from Brock House, the family residence on campus, on Aug. 22.
Benton's case is expected to return to the same courthouse on Friday, Sept. 7, for a preliminary hearing. He remains in custody at the Men's Central Jail. Bail on the felony charges is set at $195,000, with an additional $25,000 bail amount for a warrant information sheet hold based on parallel misdemeanor complaint proceedings that ultimately may or may not be conjoined with the felony case.
Spokesperson Sandi Gibbons of the Los Angeles County District Attorney's office said Benton was represented at his arraignment by an attorney from the county's Alternate Public Defender's Department. APD provides legal representation to indigent persons charged with a crime that the public defender's office is unable to represent (usually -due to conflict of interest) in court proceedings.
It is not known whether private counsel will be engaged as the case proceeds. A high profile criminal attorney has been representing Benton and shielding him from being questioned by law enforcement regarding the fatal heroin overdose of 25-year-old Malibu graphic designer Katie Wilkins on April 28.
No criminal filing is currently anticipated in the Wilkins case, but Benton has acknowledged being at the Wilkins family home and Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department detectives and Wilkins family members say they would like to ask him questions about the woman's death.
Benton was also due in court this week for a bench warrant hearing related to a two-count misdemeanor complaint of being under the influence of a controlled substance and driving without a valid driver license on Oct. 31, 2011.
The five felony counts delineate that on Aug. 22, Benton threatened his parents at the family campus residence with commission of a "crime that would result in death and great bodily harm," which led them to "fear for his/her safety and the safety of his/her immediate family," according to the complaint.
The senior Bentons also allege that their son committed grand theft of a firearm that was their personal property at that time. No information about the handgun and its registration has been made public.
When their son left Brock House, the Bentons contacted the sheriff's department and Lost Hills Sheriff's Station deputies reportedly searched the campus for the younger Benton but did not find him.
It is not known where Chris Benton, who reportedly still had the handgun in his possession, spent the night of Aug. 22 or the morning of Aug. 23.
Benton had a vehicle, albeit with questionable driver license status. But, even on foot, he was not far away from two schools, two churches, shopping centers, and Malibu City Hall.
When asked by the Malibu Surfside News why no public news alert was issued about the search for the armed Benton, LASD spokesperson Steve Whitmore responded, "[No LASD alert was issued] because you don't want to panic a community unduly. We were relatively confident the situation was under control."
However, Benton was not apprehended until later on Thursday when he was spotted on campus and, after a brief chase, was taken into custody in the Thornton Administration Building. He reportedly had attempted to discard the gun and possessed additional ammunition that was subsequently confiscated by deputies.
Benton's legal problems date back more than a decade. He has three felony convictions for illegal substance use/sale and related charges dating from 2003 to 2009, which compound the gravity of the current charges he is facing.