By DENISE SEYFER
On April 17, former Mount Mary University scholar Jessica Benson shuffled into court with her hands cuffed. She wore a navy blue jail shirt. Her now long, black wavy hair provided a shield from cameras that awaited information of her fate. She was charged with one count of robbery of a financial institution, as a party to a crime.
Benson’s 11-month disappearance
Nearly one year ago, Benson was two weeks shy of graduation when she suddenly stopped showing up for classes. On May 7, 2013, one day prior to her disappearance, Benson’s former employer, Educators Credit Union, located at 7025 W. Appleton Ave. in Milwaukee, was robbed.
Mount Mary students, friends and family held vigils for her safe return. Many feared she was abducted against her will. Some speculated that she was involved in the robbery.
Benson was recently arrested in northern Illinois and extradited to Wisconsin to face criminal charges related to the robbery.
Under Wisconsin law, if Benson is convicted of the Class C felony, she could face up to 40 years in prison or be fined not more than $100,000, or both.
Initial court appearance
Benson sat with her feet shackled to the floor next to her attorney, Alejandro Lockwood.
The district attorney representing the State of Wisconsin recommended to Judicial Court Commissioner Rosa M. Barillas a $25,000 bail and supervision. Lockwood argued that Benson had ties to the community and was a high school graduate in order to convince the judge for more leniency in setting her bail.
Judge Barillas conceded to $10,000 bail and strictly prohibited her from contacting former co-workers from Educators Credit Union, or risk additional charges.
Robbery specifics disclosed
At Benson’s initial court appearance, Judge Barillas read her the charges written on the criminal complaint.
According to this complaint, on May 7, 2013, a bank worker from Educators Credit Union retrieved a piece of paper — a cash demand — from a tube feed, where drive-thru bank transactions occur.
The demand note was recovered and read, “Load the bag at the draw window with non-sequestered unmarked bills…No dye packs. Do not call the police until 6:15 p.m. or the bomb will detonate outside.”
According to statements by Ricardo Lorenzo Perkins, 32, who was convicted of the same felony as well as operating a vehicle without the owner’s consent, Benson allegedly first brought up the bank robbery to Perkins approximately three weeks prior to the robbery.
Perkins was sentenced to four years in prison and four years probation, court documents state.
A Milwaukee police detective located a plastic, 1 gallon windshield wiper fluid bottle on the floor of the front passenger seat of Perkins’s stolen vehicle used in the robbery. In his training and experience, he knew this to be an improvised explosive device, commonly referred to as a Molotov cocktail, according to Perkins’s criminal complaint.
According to the Benson’s complaint, Benson and her boyfriend, Nathaniel Robertson, allegedly showed Perkins and Kevin Blackburn, 26, the other man convicted of the bank robbery, “the route and how the robbery would go down.”
Blackburn was sentenced to 10 years in prison and 6 years probation for robbery of a financial institution, operating a vehicle without owner’s consent and eluding an officer.
Perkins also stated in the report Benson allegedly informed them there would be a drop-off of a large quantity money on the day they decided to do the robbery, namely $400,000. The men stole approximately $6,000.
The complaint described how Benson allegedly offered to bring actual procedures and guidelines the bank uses during a robbery to convince Perkins to take part in the plot.
Movements after the crime
About three days after the robbery, Benson and Robinson allegedly met with Perkins and asked him to do another robbery. Perkins declined the offer, the complaint said. He described how Benson cut her hair shorter and dyed it blonde.
The complaint reported that Benson and Robinson rented a black Chevrolet Malibu on May 8 and returned it around midnight on May 14. Also on May 14, Robinson’s parole agent did a welfare check which revealed a recently cleared out apartment; even though, the lease was valid through 2014.
According to the complaint, Benson’s uncle saw her on May 10 and said she “showed no signs of injury or distress.” He also noted that Benson’s very long, black hair was cut to 2 to 3 inches short and was light brown to blonde.
Benson’s preliminary hearing was set for April 28.