50 years' prison for 2014 murder of Bartlett man over drug debt
A former Algonquin man was sentenced to 50 years in prison Thursday for fatally shooting a Bartlett man over a drug debt.
A Kane County jury took just three hours earlier this year to convict Gary M. Bennett, 38, of first-degree murder and concealment of a homicide. Prosecutors argued that Bennett shot Keith Crawford, 36 and a father of five, to get out of owing him money for cocaine and other drugs.
Kane County Assistant State's Attorney Joe Cullen argued for a sentence of 55 to 60 years, saying Bennett was a heroin addict who used others, had a violent past and didn't value human life.
Cullen told Judge John Barsanti the killing was an assassination. "This takes a lot of coldbloodedness. This isn't a heat-of-the-moment crime."
According to trial testimony, Bennett and another man picked up Crawford from a party in August 2014 in West Dundee under the guise of going to get money at Bennett's cousin's near St. Charles to pay Crawford back. But during the ride, Bennett, seated in the back seat, shot Crawford in the back of the head while he rode in the passenger seat.
Bennett's cousin refused to allow the body to be left at his farm, so Bennett and the other man, Joan Vado-Bonilla, dumped Crawford's body in a trash bin at an Elgin apartment complex and cleaned the vehicle, testimony indicated. However, Crawford's body has not been found.
Prosecutors also presented evidence the Crawford's DNA matched blood found in the front seat of the car, audio transcripts between Vado-Bonilla and Bennett, and texts showing how Bennett threatened Vado-Bonilla and his family if he talked.
Vado-Bonilla and Bennett, who had moved to Denver, were arrested in August 2015.
Vado-Bonilla agreed to testify against Bennett in the trial and was sentenced to probation for concealment of a homicide and deported to Venezuela after the trial.
Under state law, Bennett faced 45 to 85 years in prison on the murder charge with no chance of early release.
Defense attorney Steven Richards argued the 45-year minimum was more than enough for what Bennett did. Richards said his client merely projected a violent persona and didn't have any criminal convictions besides an incident in DuPage County where he accidentally discharged a gun.
"The minimum sentence in this case is almost a life sentence for someone Gary Bennett's age," Richards argued. "This master criminal, this coldblooded, heartless -- whatever -- is just not Gary Bennett."
Bennett's 45-year term for murder consists of a 20-year sentence, plus a 25-year add-on because the jury found that Bennett personally discharged the firearm that killed Crawford.