BEAUFORT, N.C. (WNCT) — A Newport man was found guilty and was sentenced Tuesday for the murder of a woman who was the mother of his child back in 2018.
Lewis Victor “Trey” Branche III was found guilty by a jury in Carteret County of first-degree murder in the death of Kristen Bennett, 24, of Newport. Officials said Bennett was the mother of Branche’s 5-year-old daughter. He was arrested back in 2018.
Branche was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
“Our office is pleased with the verdict and sentence in this case,” District Attorney Scott Thomas said. “We have worked closely with the victim’s family and law enforcement to achieve this conviction and sentence. Our prosecution and law enforcement team did a great job in preparing and presenting this case to the jury. Our prayers remain with the family as they continue to live with this tragic loss of Kristen.”
“I am glad to see justice done in this case and am hopeful that Kristen’s family can finally have closure,” Carteret County Sheriff Asa Buck said. “I commend our deputies and various partners who worked on this investigation and the District Attorney’s Office and their prosecution team for all of their hard work and dedicated service.”
Thomas’ office provided details of the court proceeding in a press release.
“During a trial that lasted seven days, the State presented 25 witnesses and 177 pieces of evidence. The jury deliberated less than two hours before returning its verdict. The trial involved the murder of Kristen Bennett, 24, of Newport, NC, who was the mother of Branche’s 5-year-old child. Evidence presented during the trial showed that Bennett was last seen alive on August 14, 2018 as she was walking along Hibbs Road in Newport and was observed by bystanders entering the passenger side of Branche’s vehicle following an altercation between Bennett and Branche at their residence.
“During an investigation that followed a missing person report, deputies with the Carteret County Sheriff’s Office and agents with the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation located an area of fresh dirt covered with a pile of branches in a wooded location behind Branche’s house, finding signs that indicated the presence of decomposing matter, but were unable to locate a body. Law enforcement and members of the community continued to search for Bennett until her body was eventually located by Carteret County Sheriff’s deputies on July 16, 2019 buried on land owned by Branche’s family in the Mill Creek area of Carteret County.
“Law enforcement was led to the location of the body following a tip from an inmate who shared a cell with Branche as he awaited trial in this case. The cellmate stated that Branche’s admitted to him that he shot Bennett in the head with a .22 caliber firearm and initially buried her body in an area behind his home before moving the body to land owned by his family in Mill Creek. Utilizing information provided by Branche’s cellmate, deputies located Bennett’s remains, which exhibited a single gunshot wound to the skull and contained fragments identified from a .22 caliber firearm.“
Chuck Bennett, the father of Kristen Bennett said he was very thankful for the good work of the District Attorney’s Office, the Sheriff’s Office and the State Bureau of Investigation. Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Joshua W. Willey, Jr. presided over the trial and handed down the sentence. The case was prosecuted by Assistant District Attorneys David L. Spence and Ashley N. Eatmon, with assistance from District Attorney Legal Assistant Michelle D. Gillikin.
The case was investigated by the Carteret County Sheriff’s Office and the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation. Carteret County Sheriff’s Office Major Jason Wank was the lead detective. The North Carolina State Crime Lab performed forensic analysis.