A Few Pieces of the Katie Wilkins Puzzle Fall into Place
• Fingerprint ID Places Last Person with Known Contact at Door to Garage Where Body Was Found
BY ANNE SOBLE
The lead detective on the Katherine Jessie Wilkins case confirmed this week that fingerprint analysis has identified a thumb print of Christopher Benton on the door leading to the garage where the 25-year-old Malibu graphic designer known as Katie was found dead on April 28.
Detective Tim O'Quinn of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department Homicide Bureau told the Malibu Surfside News this means "Benton can definitely be put at the Wilkins house that night, but we still don't know what occurred there."
Benton has already been identified entering Wilkins car the evening of April 27 from surveillance tape at a local fast food establishment after texting her about getting together.
O'Quinn said the print discovery would be enough to call Chris Benton, 27, in for questioning, but the detective said he was informed by Ronald Lewis, the noted criminal attorney who is representing Benton, " that [Lewis] will not allow his client to make any statement."
An email from The news to Lewis asking for comment did not receive a response.
Benton, the son of the current president of Pepperdine University, Andy Benton, who lived with his family in the official residence on campus, has reportedly not been seen in public since late April and family members have indicated that he is in a rehabilitation facility and remains incommunicado.
The LASD detective explained, "If we call Benton in and he is only going to take the Fifth [Amendment], there is no advantage to bringing him in to do that, and [so we are] continuing to work on the case we will ultimately present to the district attorney."
O'Quinn stressed, "I plan on going to the D.A. with all the information that has been collected during this investigation and making a 'here's what I've got' report and see what happens."
He said if the ongoing "investigation indicates that Benton bought the narcotics and brought them to the house and/or injected [Katie Wilkins], that could be grounds to explore involuntary manslaughter charges."
But O'Quinn indicated, "Without that, it's a long shot. This is, in part, because Wilkins used drugs before and it could be argued that they both bought drugs and used them together. If she had never used drugs, this would be a very different case."
The basic forensics testing is expected to take several more weeks and the DNA analysis that was requested because of the removal of some of Wilkins' clothing could take several months.
O'Quinn said from a law enforcement perspective, there is also a general public concern in this case that "if a person could be a party to someone becoming ill and dying and not seek help for them, that person might do it again. That is another reason to continue to work on this case."
In addition, the LASD detective indicated that fingerprint analysis of Wilkins' car that was found abandoned in Woodland Hills was inconclusive, which indicates "the vehicle might have been wiped" when whoever was driving it left it parked on the street.
Diane Wilkins, Katie's mother, had told The News earlier that a "living room couch cushion, a pillow and a hall bath towel are missing" from the house, and there has been family speculation about their use to remove evidence.
Steve Wilkins, Katie's brother, told The News, "The lack of prints demands the possibility that Katie's car was wiped clean before or after it was dumped following Katie's death. Towels from our home, along with Katie's car keys, remain missing, and it is important to note that, despite a $5K reward for the car's return, whoever dumped the car chose to remain hidden rather than seek the reward money and reveal their identity."
The brother added, "I am disappointed that Chris's cover continues. As suspected, the investigation recently revealed that Chris was at our house and within a few feet from where I found Katie lying dead on the garage floor. More than ever, concerns regarding his motive to conceal his involvement remain pressing. It's also disturbing that Chris has remained shielded from accountability for the consequences of his actions."
Diane Wilkins said family members are disappointed in the silence of Benton's parents and have attempted to discuss this with Pepperdine officials. She indicated "the brother of Katie Wilkins' father Rob, sent an impassioned letter to the secretary of the Pepperdine Board of Regents, Andrew Benton, COO of Pepperdine, and the director of media relations, and, again, no response."