One year into his 26-year jail sentence for the the murder of 16-year-old Ben Eastman, Benito Marquez’s new attorney has filed a motion to overturn his guilty plea and sentence.
Marquez and his brother, Jonathan Adamson, both accepted plea deals in February 2019 after being accused of luring Eastman into the woods in East Lewis County in June 2018 on the pretext of going camping and then beating him to death. They allegedly buried Eastman in a shallow grave, then later dug up the body, reburied it and fled to Eastern Washington.
Marquez was sentenced on Nov. 23, 2020, to a total of 260 months, just over 26 years, for first-degree murder and first-degree assault. Due to his age at the time of the murder — he was 16 — Marquez is eligible for early release after 20 years.
The sentence was appealed that same day, and the case is currently making its way through the state Court of Appeals.
The motion filed by Marquez’s new attorney, J. Talitha Hazelton, in Lewis County Superior Court last week asks the court to discard Marquez’s guilty plea on the grounds that his court-ordered attorney, Shane O’Rourke, failed to properly defend Marquez.
Hazelton’s firm, TeamChild, provides legal services to incarcerated and at-risk youth in Washington state.
In the motion, Hazelton argues O’Rourke’s “personal beliefs and conflicting allegiances” negatively impacted the case and that O’Rourke “failed to sufficiently investigate and test the state’s evidence prior to advising Marquez to plead guilty.”
After Marquez’s change-of-plea hearing, O’Rourke said the evidence against his client was significant enough that a jury trial wouldn’t have been a wise move, saying “there’s no sense in going to a trial with that type of overwhelming evidence,” according to previous Chronicle reporting.
Hazelton argued Marquez lacked the intent required for a first-degree murder conviction, and claimed O’Rourke could have demonstrated that lack of intent by presenting evidence of Marquez’s brain injury, his “extreme intoxication” at the time of the crime and Adamson’s culpability.
Adamson was sentenced to 563 months, or nearly 47 years, to life in prison for convictions for first-degree murder, first-degree rape, second-degree kidnapping and witness tampering in Eastman’s death.
Adamson was the instigator of the attack, according to Prosecutor Jonathan Meyer, and Marquez’s sentence was reduced based on that, as well as his age and his help with the investigation.
Hazelton also argued O’Rourke did not provide Marquez enough information to make an “intelligent” decision about his plea, and claims O’Rourke and Meyer used “coercive tactics” to convince Marquez to enter a guilty plea.
Meyer and Lewis County Sheriff’s Office deputies allegedly interviewed Marquez prior to the February 2019 plea hearing and during that interview Meyer allegedly told Marquez “there wasn’t going to be another (plea deal)” and that “he would do everything he could to make sure Benny stayed in jail for the rest of his life,” according to court documents. O’Rourke then allegedly entered the meeting, presented Marquez with a fast-food burger and allowed him to pet a therapy dog.
“This testimony raises serious questions as to whether Prosecutor Meyer and Attorney O’Rourke used coercive tactics … to get Benny Marquez to take a plea deal he had already indicated to Attorney O’Rourke and others he was not going to take,” wrote Hazelton.
In addition to invalidating the guilty plea, the motion also asks the court to vacate Marquez’s original sentence and have him resentenced.
Hazelton argues that the case should be resentenced because O’Rourke failed to provide the judge “mitigation evidence” that gave insight into Marquez’s state of mind at the time of the incident.
The day of the murder, Marquez and Adamson, ages 16 and 21, were camping with their 14-year-old sister, their cousin and their cousin’s girlfriend. After they’d all consumed a “significant amount of alcohol,” their sister was pushed into disclosing that Eastman had allegedly raped her 10 days prior.
“Within a matter of hours, (Eastman) was dead,” according to court documents.
“Because (the sister)’s report of rape to Benny and Jonny was the catalyst for the sequence of events that unfolded, it was critical that the sentencing judge understand such a report was not a haphazard drunken malignment of (Eastman) that spurred action, but a shameful secret unearthed from hiding that, when revealed, was indisputably felt and understood as real harm that happened to (the sister),” said Hazelton in court documents.
Hazelton claimed Meyer gave a “distorted characterization” of the catalyst behind the murder to the court during Marquez’s sentencing and said O’Rourke’s failure to correct Meyer’s characterization negatively impacted Marquez’ sentence.
The motion was officially filed in Lewis County Superior Court on Nov. 22 and a hearing has yet to be scheduled.