AUGUSTA, Maine — Raymond Leslie Clark, 36, pleaded guilty Monday to murdering a woman who lived one floor below him in a city apartment building.
Clark told police Audrey Lou Benn, 72, had confronted him in her kitchen with a knife on the morning of Feb. 22, 2008, about his being a convicted sex offender.
He admitted to police he struck her several times — and strangled her with the tie to her own bathrobe — after she slowly backed him into her bedroom at knife point, said Assistant Attorney General Leane Zainea.
Zainea outlined the details of the slaying Monday for Justice John Nivison in Kennebec County Superior Court.
Clark told police he acted in self-defense. But Benn was a petite, frail woman who had recently used a cane for balance.
Investigators said Clark’s DNA was found on the tie of Benn’s green terrycloth bathrobe. The deputy chief medical examiner said Benn died of strangulation. Bruises were found on her chin and right eye, and on the right side of her mouth.
Clark re-enacted the murder scene for police four nights after it happened, and police videotaped it, Zainea said.
“He was able to get the knife from her, and threw her on the bed and pinned her down and struck her several times in the face,” Zainea said. “He took the belt from her bathrobe and tied it around her neck. She wasn’t struggling; she wasn’t fighting back.”
When Benn’s nose started bleeding, Clark stuffed tissues up her nostrils, Zainea said.
Clark told police he left and threw the knife into a snowbank outside. He later led investigators to it.
Benn’s body was found on the bed the evening of Feb. 22, 2008, when her roommate came home from work.
Suspicion quickly turned to Clark after Benn’s roommate told police he frequently used Benn’s phone and borrowed cigarettes and money from her, according to an affidavit filed by state police Detective Jason Richards.
Shortly after Clark’s arrest on Feb. 26, 2008, his attorney, James Billings, said he had concerns about Clark’s competence and was exploring defenses based on self-defense and mental capacity.
But that defense did not materialize and Billings said Monday that he and Zainea agreed to jointly recommend a sentence of 40 years in prison, with Billings reserving the right to argue for less.
The conviction for “knowing and intentional murder” carries a minimum sentence of 25 years in prison. Nivison said a sentencing hearing would be set for late next month.
Minutes before the hearing, Clark, in an interview on the second floor of the courthouse, said Benn had been a good neighbor to him, and that he regretted his actions.
“I want to say that I’m sorry,” Clark said. “Many times I wish that never happened. She wasn’t a mean person, and that wasn’t me. I’m very sorry for the pain and suffering I caused.”
Clark also said the state’s mental health system failed him.
He said he had his first encounter with it at age 5 and had been hospitalized a dozen or so times at Augusta Mental Health Institute, private detoxification centers, and psychiatric hospitals across the state.
Clark was convicted in 1999 of sexual abuse of a minor and sentenced to two years in prison. That offense placed him on the state’s sex offender registry.
On Feb. 8, 2008, about three weeks before the killing, Augusta Police Department officers delivered fliers around the neighborhood that included a photograph of Clark and the fact that he was registered as a sex offender.
Clark initially denied involvement in Benn’s killing, telling friends he knew nothing about it.
However, Zainea said that three weeks before the murder Clark stole checkbooks belonging to Benn.
In July 2006, Clark was arrested and charged with stealing more than $5,000 worth of jewelry from a Hallowell jewelry store.
He pleaded guilty to the theft and, in November 2006, was sentenced to five years in jail with all but 100 days suspended. He was on probation at the time he killed Benn.
Clark has been held without bail on the murder charge since his February 2008 arrest.
Benn and a roommate shared an apartment on the basement floor of the apartment at 20 State St., four blocks from the courthouse. Clark had an apartment on street level.
Benn’s daughter, Elizabeth Glass, arrived from New York to watch Clark plead guilty to the murder of her mother on Monday.
She said her mother had been a teacher in New York and in the Republic of Guinea.
She said her mother suffered from mental illness.
“She was sick, and mentally ill people sometimes push family away,” Glass said Monday.