Days before he left office, Gov. Jerry Brown reduced the sentence of convicted killer Sean Robert Benge from life in prison without the possibility of parole to 25 years to life with the possibility of parole. Brown’s decision also erased an additional 25-years-to-life sentence enhancement for using a shotgun in the 2005 killing of 45-year old Steven Glenn Brown of Ceres. Benge may now be eligible for a parole hearing in as little as 12 years.
Benge, originally from Turlock, shot and killed Brown in his own home after lying in wait for him to arrive. Brown’s 12-year-old daughter found her father’s body when she returned from school that day.
Gov. Brown granted 143 pardons and 131 sentence commutations on Christmas Eve. In at least six cases, the California Supreme Court has reversed Brown’s decisions.
The family of the Ceres man killed in 2005 became upset last summer that his convicted killer was seeking clemency from Gov. Brown. Steven Glenn Brown, 45, was found shot to death inside his rural Ceres home in the 6900 block of Crows Landing Road on Jan. 4, 2005.
In 2008 Benge was convicted of first-degree murder conviction with a special circumstance, lying in wait, which requires a life sentence without the possibility of parole. He is incarcerated at Valley State Prison in Chowchilla.
“The public needs to know that he does not need to be on the street,” said Diana Brown McGill, sister of Steven Brown. “Our family is super upset. He wants to erase the murder of my brother. “Our mother found him with his heart blown out and his head blown off by a shotgun. He has four beautiful grandchildren who will never see their grandfather again because of Sean Berge. This guy, after 13 years, has the audacity to ask Gov. Brown for clemency? Forgive me, no, no, no. Ceres doesn’t need this. Steven Brown was a hard-working family man.”
The guilty verdict against Sean Benge of Turlock was half of a double-trial which two separate juries heard evidence in one courtroom. Another jury decided the fate of Benge’s uncle, Jerry Benge, 49, who allegedly ordered the attack. Prosecutors presented a case that Jerry Benge, who was married, wanted Brown out of the way to romantically pursue Brown’s wife, Katherine Brown. The jury found Benge guilty of lying in wait during the murder, a special circumstance that caused Benge to receive a life sentence without the possibility of parole.
During the trial, public defender Maureen Keller suggested that Sean Benge was guilty of attacking Brown for the intent of only roughing him up, but that things got ugly. She urged the jury to explore the voluntary manslaughter charge with its lesser sentence. Keller suggested that Sean Benge was vulnerable because of a sense of loyalty and obligation to his uncle and his weakened state of drug addiction. But Carolyn Matzger, deputy district attorney, said there was intent to kill as Sean Benge was practicing with a shotgun before the attack.
In an interview with the Sacramento Bee, Gov. Brown defended his actions, saying that the number of people who are serving long and life sentences in California has “just skyrocketed.” He said 20 years ago there were a “very small number in prison for life without parole … now we have 35,000 in that category and the number coming in keeps growing” because of new laws and initiatives passed by voters. Brown said the lifer population will soon become “a gerontology ward.”
He said California went from 12 state prisons to 35, from 25,000 inmates to 128,000. The governor said giving inmates little hope of being released “feeds the prison gangs.”