The Tucsonans did not report the death of a man whose resurrection was sought through prayer.
A Tucson couple pleaded guilty yesterday to criminal nuisance for their part in not reporting the death of a man whose body decomposed while his family and others prayed for his resurrection.
Stanley and Jill Bennett originally pleaded not guilty to the charge of failing to report James Killeen’s death and refused a plea offer. But they changed their minds last week and pleaded guilty to criminal nuisance, said Assistant City Prosecutor Tom Alongi.
“The law basically says that either by conduct or by their actions, by unreasonably allowing circumstances to exist, it threatens the health or safety of other people,” Alongi said.
“And I think allowing a dead body to decompose constitutes a health risk.”
Tucson City Court Magistrate Margarita Bernal gave the couple the maximum penalty for the misdemeanor, fining them $500 each and giving them four months’ probation. When the two have paid the fines, Alongi said, they may ask the court to end probation.
Alongi said the penalties for failing to report a death and criminal nuisance are the same.
“But for some reason they did not disclose to us, they wanted that type of label of a crime on their record rather than failure to report a death,” Alongi said. “I guess criminal nuisance carries a connotation that’s more socially acceptable.”
“I think everyone’s glad this is behind them,” said attorney Christian J. Kimminau, who represented Stan Bennett. Kimminau declined to explain why Bennett changed his mind about the plea.
Attorney Deborah Ferguson of the City Public Defender’s Office, who represented Jill Bennett, declined to comment.
The Bennetts could not be reached for comment.
“It’s a difficult situation for everyone,” Alongi said. “Very unfortunate.”
Killeen died around Jan. 2, according to the Medical Examiner’s Office, but his body remained in his South Hillerman Drive home until Jan. 23, when Killeen’s out-of-town relatives told the Tucson Police Department that they had not been able to reach him.
The cause of death could not be pinpointed because of advanced decomposition. Killeen was buried in South Lawn Cemetery in April.
Killeen’s widow and son pleaded guilty to failing to report his death and were sentenced to six months’ probation each. Eleanor Cecilia Killeen was fined $500, and Timothy Killeen was fined $250.
Francisco A. Contreras also was charged with failing to report the death and has been offered the same plea as the Bennetts, Alongi said.
Contreras has yet to tell Alongi whether he will accept the plea. If he doesn’t, Alongi said, he will go on trial Sept. 24.
According to a former housemate at the Killeen home, Stanley Bennett promised James Killeen, a diabetic, that if he fasted for 40 days he would be healed. The housemate, Joanne Tapia, also told the Tucson Citizen that Bennett and his wife, Jill, a registered nurse, do not believe in medicine.
“They believe the Lord is the healer,” she said.
Stanley Bennett reportedly is the spiritual leader of World Ministries, in the 22000 block of South Helvetia Road.
According to World Ministries’ 2003 annual report filed with the Arizona Corporation Commission, Manda Bennett of Chandler is president/CEO, and Contreras is vice president. Jill Bennett, Eleanor Killeen and Myra and Meagan Bennett are among its officers.
Myra Bennett is Stanley Bennett’s daughter. The relationship of Manda and Meagan Bennett to Stanley and Jill Bennett is not known.
Stanley Bennett had been listed as an officer in World Ministries’ annual reports from 1998, when it registered as Word in Truth Ministries, to 2002.