Richard Benson: Sentenced to death in 1987

February 10, 2010 

1986 - Richard Allen Benson, who killed a Nipomo mother and her three children. On death row.

A Superior Court judge sentenced mass-murderer Richard Allen Benson to death in April 1987.

Benson was 38 when he killed a Nipomo woman and three of her four children in January 1986.

Benson himself told a probation officer during a jailhouse interview in April 1987, "I should die for what I did." If he could choose how to die, he said, "I would pick the most longest-lasting, painful method of death invented," according to probation reports.

A parolee with a history of child molestation convictions, Benson was convicted in the killings of Laura Camargo and her three children: Sterling, 23 months, Shawna, 3, and Stephanie, 4.

During the trial, the prosecutor said it was a desire for the little girls that made Benson stalk Laura Camargo in January 1986. Benson met Camargo through mutual friends the day before Camargo was killed. At a party at the home where Benson lived in Oceano, Benson spent time "getting friendly" with Camargo, who was the homeowner's best friend.

Later that night, after getting a ride to Camargo's home and lying to his roommate about where he was going, Benson ended up alone with Camargo and her three young children. Within an hour after he arrived, Laura Camargo was dead.

Benson then turned his attention to the little girls, who had been sleeping in the next room.

He suffocated Sterling when the boy began to cry in the middle of the night.

Then he repeatedly molested Shawna and Stephanie over a two-day period before beating them to death with a hammer and a metal ring sizer.

In attempt to cover up his crimes, he set fire to the bodies and the family's apartment and fled.

He confessed afterward because "carrying it inside of me was too much to bear," he admitted to a probation officer. Prosecutor Ted Duffy used the long confession to help convict Benson and to persuade jurors to choose the death penalty.

During 14 hours of interviews after his arrest, he described in detail how he killed each victim and how he had molested the two girls. The taped interrogations were played for jurors during the penalty phase.

Benson, who had several prior convictions for child molestation, kidnapping and robbery, told investigators he had taken methamphetamine just before he killed Camargo and again before he murdered the two girls.

The trial was moved to Santa Barbara because of the heavy publicity in San Luis Obispo County.

A defense psychiatrist testified during the trial that Benson's sexual attraction to young girls is a psychiatric disorder that, in combination with drug use, is "exceedingly dangerous."

Benson admitted to using amphetamines daily during the month before the killing. The daily use most likely contributed to the effect the drug had on him the weekend of the killings, a pharmacologist testified during the trial.

During the killings, Benson was suffering from "toxic psychosis," the pharmacologist said during the trial, "... hearing and seeing things that in retrospect he knows were not there."

Benson showed little reaction as the court clerk read the verdict, simply closing his eyes for a moment.

The trial for the worst mass murderer in the county since the early 1900s cost $250,000 and lasted 2 1/2 months.

An execution date was set for Jan. 26, 1993, but was delayed because of appeals.

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