SAN DIEGO (CNS) - A man convicted of first-degree murder for stabbing an Ocean Beach resident, then dismembering his body and burying it in Campo, was sentenced today to 83 years and eight months to life in state prison.
Brian Eleron Hancock, 49, of National City, was found guilty last month of killing 68-year-old Peter Bentz at the victim's apartment on Nov. 21, 2017. The prosecution had long indicated that the victim's body was believed to be buried somewhere in Campo, and had not been recovered.
But Deputy District Attorney Jeff Dort revealed at Hancock's sentencing that Bentz's skull was actually discovered in May 2018, but not positively identified until Jan. 10, just days after the trial began.
The information was kept from the jury, and sealed from the public under a gag order, as it was believed its disclosure might taint the jury panel, the prosecutor said. He said a biologist conducting a survey in Campo found the skull, and the positive identification was made through dental records.
According to the prosecution, Hancock killed Bentz because he believed the victim posted a compromising video online of Hancock having sex with a woman, The defendant testified at trial that he had sex with Bentz, then with a woman, at Bentz's apartment a few days before he went missing.
Prosecutors said Hancock later came under the belief that he and the woman may have been surreptitiously recorded by Bentz, though no such video has ever been discovered.
After the killing, the defendant stole Bentz's computer -- presumably to dispose of the video -- and spent the next few days purchasing bleach, a shovel, a table saw, a mattock and a rug, all with Bentz's credit card, at different stores, while driving his car, according to Dort.
The prosecutor told jurors that Hancock attempted to scrub the crime scene of evidence, though a police cadaver dog alerted officers to blood on a carpeted area of the apartment, which was later matched to Bentz. Bentz's phone was never used after Nov. 21, though cell phone records indicated Hancock was near the victim's home that afternoon.
Hancock purchased a new cell phone the following day, whereas Bentz's phone last pinged off a cell tower near Hancock's home in National City, Dort said. During the initial search for Bentz, a license plate reader indicated the victim's car was near Logan Heights on Nov. 25.
Officers sent to the area did not find Bentz's car, but did find his wallet -- minus credit cards -- as well as his driver's license, receipts and other property of his strewn about the location where his car was last seen, Dort said.
A bloody napkin or paper towel found in the pile of items carried DNA from both Bentz and Hancock, according to the prosecutor, who alleged it was used by Hancock to mop up the crime scene.
Before handing down Hancock's sentence, San Diego County Superior Court Judge Joan P. Weber said "rarely has this court seen a more diabolical crime.'' The judge excoriated Hancock for how the murder affected not only Bentz and the victim's family, but also Hancock's own family and friends, particularly his wife, who Hancock had chastised for talking with police.
Recorded jail calls played during the trial captured Hancock screaming and cursing at his wife, asking her, "Did you tell them where?'' -- likely in reference to where Bentz's body was buried -- though no specific details regarding Bentz's death were discussed.
Weber also recalled Hancock's testimony, in which she said he told "one lie after another'' in trying to explain his whereabouts and why he had the victim's property. Hancock testified that he was borrowing Bentz's credit cards and car partially as favors in exchange for appearing in sex videos Bentz recorded with other men.
According to the defendant, Bentz's phone was tracked with Hancock's because Bentz had accidentally left his cell phone in Hancock's truck just before the defendant left Ocean Beach on the night of Nov. 21. He testified that he purchased a new phone in an attempt to save money by switching cell service providers.
Hancock also testified that shortly before Bentz went missing, the victim told Hancock that he would not be attending his brother's Thanksgiving dinner in San Pedro, as was their family routine, and was instead going on a vacation to Mexico. Bentz's family reported him missing when he never appeared at his brother's home for the holiday.
Weber told the defendant, "You deserve to never step outside a prison for the rest of your life.'' Bentz's younger brother said the pain of losing his brother was magnified by the fact that Peter was missing for so long, with no indication of what had befallen him.
"I hope the person who did this to Peter has the rest of his life to contemplate the enormity of his actions,'' Kirk Bentz said. "I hope he can imagine the pain that my family went through for the months, years, that we could not find Peter's body, and I hope he can feel one percent of the empathy involved with the hours upon hours of sitting up at night, wondering or worrying if my brother was OK. He was not OK. He was murdered and it still tears me up inside, tears us up inside.''