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Jury convicts woman in drug killing

A jury convicted a woman Wednesday of murdering the man she testified sold her drugs and started her on the use of crack cocaine.

The jury took only 40 minutes to reach verdicts of second-degree murder and armed robbery against Dawn Bennett, 28, of Denham Springs.

Bennett said on the stand that she killed Reginald Griffin, who she said was the drug dealer who got her started on cocaine four years ago.

Defense attorney Wayne Stewart suggested to the jury in closing arguments that Griffin "got what he deserved."

The young woman remained composed on the stand as well as during the reading of the verdict and when deputies placed handcuffs on her and led her from the courtroom.

She said she shot Griffin last year during a drug transaction across the street from Seventh Ward Elementary School near Denham Springs when he grabbed her companion.

"What did you mean to do when you shot him five times," prosecutor Charlotte Herbert asked Bennett.

"I meant to kill him," Bennett answered.

She testified that Griffin, who she had known for four years, introduced her to crack cocaine and was her only source for the drug.

She said the drug is very addictive, and she wanted more after the first time she used it.

"It makes you feel good, but it doesn't last very long," Bennett told the jury.

She said she unsuccessfully tried to quit using crack cocaine several times.

Bennett testified she is sorry Griffin is dead and has thought many times about what she could have done that evening.

Griffin's wife testified that Griffin, who sometimes sold drugs, received a cell phone call at home on the night he was killed and left shortly afterward.

Bennett and Lucy Simmons met Griffin in the parking lot near the school, but didn't have money to pay for the cocaine, Herbert told the jury.

"They took the dope, and they shot him," Detective Chuck Watts said when asked by Stewart for any evidence that the women robbed Griffin.

Watts said he traced the last cell phone call to Griffin to a cell phone later found in the possession of Bennett and Simmons when he and other authorities arrested the women in LaPlace a week after the shooting.

Authorities also found the murder weapon beneath a mattress in the bedroom where the women were staying, Watts said.

Watts said he knew the brand and caliber of the pistol he was looking for because of the grooves the barrel left on a bullet found at the scene.

Detectives checked theft reports and found a theft of that type of weapon. That also helped to lead detectives to the women, Watts testified.

Charles Watson Jr., a forensic scientist with the Louisiana State Police Crime Laboratory, testified he was able to identify the brand and caliber of the weapon on the night of the shooting because of the distinctive markings left on the bullet found at the crime scene.

When Herbert introduced the 9 mm pistol into evidence, members of the jury passed it around, some handling it gingerly while others examined it closely.

The attentive jury followed page-by-page through copies of a transcript as Herbert played a taped statement Bennett gave police on the day of her arrest.

Herbert questioned Bennett about why she said nothing in that statement about Griffin's alleged attack on Simmons.

Bennett said it was because detectives didn't ask her.

Wednesday afternoon she testified that Simmons and Griffin argued after Simmons got in the car with him to get cocaine.

Bennett said Simmons tried to get out of the car, but Griffin grabbed her by the arm and wouldn't let her.

"That's why I went over there and shot him," she said. "I felt I was in danger, and I felt she was in danger."

"There is no self-defense" in this case, Herbert told the jury in closing arguments. "Bennett was sitting in another car with a gun."

"She wasn't defending herself. She wasn't defending Lucy. She may have been defending her own drug problem," Herbert said.

"They set him up," Herbert told the jury.

Second-degree murder carries a mandatory sentence of life in prison without the possibility of probation, parole or suspension of sentence.

Simmons, 32, also of Denham Springs, still awaits trial on charges of second-degree murder and armed robbery in the case.

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