A 29-year-old man who fatally stabbed his lover, and left the man's body in a plastic storage container in the victim's Los Angeles apartment, was sentenced Wednesday to 16 years to life in state prison.
A Los Angeles Superior Court jury found Kenneth Mullen Watkins guilty Aug. 8 of second-degree murder for the January 2016 slaying of Terry Nigale Benjamin, whose body was discovered on Jan. 23, 2016, after neighbors in his apartment complex in the 4100 block of Santo Thomas Drive complained about a foul smell.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge David Herriford declined the defense's request to strike the knife enhancement that added a year to Watkins' sentence, citing the "multiple stab wounds" to Benjamin, the circumstances of the attack and the disposal of the 52-year-old victim's body.
Benjamin's younger sister told the judge that her brother was a "role model always guiding me with wisdom" and that she feels "like a part of me has been taken away."
Pam Sturrock said her brother's life was "so violently taken," and that it will have a ripple effect for years to come.
Daniel Solis, who went to college with the victim, said, "A beautiful light has been put out."
Speaking directly to Benjamin's killer, Solis said, "You killed him and shoved him in a container and left him there to rot."
Lois Tedrow, who described herself as Benjamin's "California mom," described him as a "wonderful, generous person" who "would give you the shirt off his back."
"I just miss him every single day," she said.
Deputy District Attorney Deann Rivard said the victim -- who had a "sexual relationship" with Watkins -- was stabbed 10 times in the chest, back and top of the head and left in a storage container in his kitchen.
The prosecutor lauded the work of police Detectives Rene Castro and Chris Courtney, who found a Walmart receipt on the victim's dining room table that led them to the store, where they obtained video surveillance footage of the victim and an individual later identified as the defendant wearing clothes that matched bloody clothing found on top of Benjamin's body.
The detectives obtained fingerprint evidence from inside the residence and the victim's vehicle to identify Watkins, who acknowledged under questioning by police that he had stabbed Benjamin, according to Rivard.
Watkins' attorney, Philip C. Dube, called what happened "a tragedy."
"Mr. Watkins and I stand behind this being a matter of self-defense ... He insists that the victim came at him with a knife and he defended himself, and he will take that to his grave," the defense lawyer said outside court.
The prosecutor countered that "there was no evidence at the crime scene that would support a claim of self-defense" other than the "defendant's self-serving statements."
Watkins was arrested in March 2016 and has remained behind bars since then.