DA declines to pursue felony charges against Pepperdine president’s son

Chris Benton

Citing insufficient evidence, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office has opted not to pursue felony manslaughter charges against Chris Benton, son of Pepperdine President Andrew K. Benton, for his alleged involvement in the death of a 25-year-old Malibu resident last year.

Authorities believe Benton, who has a troubled drug history, was the last person to have seen Katie Wilkins alive before she died of a heroin overdose. Surveillance footage showed Wilkins picking up Benton in her car at the McDonald’s restaurant on Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu hours before her death.

Homicide Det. Tim O’Quinn had recommended Benton be charged with involuntary manslaughter and taking a vehicle without an owner’s consent. Both are felony counts.

Katie Wilkins’ father said the family was disappointed in the DA’s decision.

“We feel there is precedent that if somebody causes somebody else to be in severe distress that they have some responsibility to help out,” Rob Wilkins said.

Wilkins’ body was found April 28 in the garage of her parents’ home in the hills above Las Flores Canyon in Malibu. Her car was missing and did not turn up until almost two weeks later in a Woodland Hills neighborhood.

In a statement to Wilkins’ family in March this year, O’Quinn had written that he believed Benton was with Wilkins the night of her death and bore criminal culpability in it. 

“From Chris’ own narcotics history, he absolutely knew what the end result was most likely to be when he left Katie incapacitated and alone on the garage floor, with a telephone only a few feet away. In my opinion, this is where Chris became criminally culpable for Katie’s death,” O’Quinn wrote to the Wilkins family.

That statement contradicted earlier ones made by O’Quinn. In August 2012, the detective had said forming a case against Benton in the Wilkins incident would be impossible unless there was evidence showing Benton had administered a deadly heroin dose to Katie Wilkins.

“Unless we can prove he administered the lethal dose of heroin, we don’t have a case,” O’Quinn said at the time.

But the detective later changed that opinion. When asked in March whether he had discovered evidence to show Benton had administered the lethal drug dose, O’Quinn said he had not, but that recent case law showed a person present during a heroin overdose could be held responsible for a person’s death.

“These cases clearly define what circumstances are necessary for someone to be held criminally responsible for the heroin overdose death of another. And these circumstances do not necessarily require that the person had provided the narcotics or personally injected the victim,” O’Quinn wrote to the Wilkins family.

O’Quinn did not specify at the time what case law he was referring to at the time, saying he “just [presents] the facts” and that the ultimate decision would be up to the district attorney’s office.

Ronald J. Lewis, who represented Chris Benton after his arrest in August, expressed skepticism in March that Benton could face criminal penalties in Wilkins’ death. 

“Factually, there’s nothing new to this case,” Lewis said. “Both these kids were drug addicts. I don’t care how they want to try and rewrite history… Chris had an ongoing drug problem. People who have heroin addiction problems don’t just quit and then everything’s fine. It’s a monkey they always carry on their back.”

Benton is currently serving a two-year prison sentence for threatening his parents on the Pepperdine campus last August and possessing a loaded firearm registered to his father.