Guilty verdict in murder case of Bartlett man last seen in 2014
A jury took about three hours Tuesday to convict Gary M. Bennett of fatally shooting a Bartlett man, who was last seen leaving a party in West Dundee in August 2014.
Bennett, 38, formerly of Algonquin, faces 20 to 60 years in prison for killing Keith Crawford, a 36-year-old father of five. The jury returned a not-guilty verdict on armed robbery charges against Bennett.
Kane County State's Attorney Joe McMahon thanked his assistants for their work on the case, as well as jurors in the trial.
"This investigation required an intense amount of work by local, state and federal, agencies, and it led to the right outcome in a horribly violent case," McMahon said. "This defendant exemplified greed and evil, and is looking at a long prison sentence as a result."
Attorneys wrapped up their cases Tuesday.
"The defendant owed Crawford money," Kane County Assistant State's Attorney Joe Cullen told jurors. "The defendant discharged that debt."
At trial, Joan Vado-Bonilla, 29, testified that he and Bennett picked up Crawford from a party so Bennett could get money from his cousin who lived on a farm near unincorporated St. Charles.
Crawford regularly sold Bennett cocaine and other drugs, and he was selling drugs at a party that night.
Vado-Bonilla drove and Bennett, who was in the back seat, shot Crawford in the back of the head, Vado-Bonilla testified. Bennett's cousin refused to have the body left at his farm, so Vado-Bonilla and Bennett dumped it in a trash container at an Elgin apartment complex, Vado-Bonilla testified.
Prosecutors also presented evidence that Crawford's DNA matched blood found in the front seat of Vado-Bonilla's car, recordings of audio conversations between Bennett and Vado-Bonilla, and texts that prosecutors argued showed Bennett threatening Vado-Bonilla and his family.
Bennett and Vado-Bonilla were arrested in August 2015. Bennett was charged with murder and armed robbery, and Vado-Bonilla was charged with concealing a homicide. Crawford's body has not been found.
Defense attorney Stephen Richards told jurors Vado-Bonilla made a deal with prosecutors to testify against Bennett because Vado-Bonilla was afraid of being deported to his home country of Venezuela. Richards pounded on Vado-Bonilla's credibility, saying he lied in his testimony about the route traveled the night Crawford disappeared and had lied, cheated and committed other crimes in the past.
"He knows the system. He plays the system. Don't let him play you," Richards told jurors. "If you don't believe Vado, then the state has no case."
Richards also suggested another person at the party, who was last seen with Crawford and told several false stories to police, could have killed Crawford over drugs. Or Crawford could have been kidnapped by others, as drug dealing is an inherently dangerous profession, Richards argued.
But Cullen said the cell tower pings that laid out a map of where the three traveled that night corroborated Vado-Bonilla's testimony.
"The cell towers aren't going to lie. They don't have any interest in this case," Cullen said. "It verifies exactly what Vado testified to."