Man faces 25 to life

Published 10:15 pm Thursday, January 13, 2011

Willie Rai Benthall faces a minimum of 25 years in prison after being convicted Thursday of robbery and abduction, among other charges.


Benthall robbed the Family Dollar store on New Year’s Eve 2009, stealing $975 from a register and the safe just after the store opened that morning.

Four store employees testified he gathered them from throughout the store at gunpoint as they went about their jobs, forced them to the front and ordered them to lie down on the floor. He then made a cashier open the register and put cash in a plastic Family Dollar bag, the clerk testified.

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Not finding enough in the register, Benthall forced the manager to open the safe and give him more cash. All the while, a fifth employee was watching the incident unfold on security cameras in the back and talking to police dispatchers on the phone.

As Benthall exited the store, Officer Tyron Langston was arriving on the scene. He testified that he saw Benthall coming out of the store and ordered him to stop. Benthall then broke out into a run. The foot pursuit included one moment when Benthall stopped, turned around and pointed his gun at Langston.

After being told he would be shot if he didn’t drop the weapon, Benthall turned and ran again. The remainder of the chase featured Benthall stripping off his shirts in an apparent effort to change his appearance, splashing through a ditch filled with water and attempting to hide in a group of warehouses.

When officers found Benthall, he was inside a warehouse on top of a stack of pallets more than 15 feet high, Langston said. He was sweating, despite temperatures that were hovering near freezing.

Benthall’s defense maintained that he had not robbed the store but only was walking near it when Langston arrived at the scene. Benthall claimed he ran because he believed he would be shot.

He will be sentenced in March for two counts of robbery, two counts of abduction, four counts of using a firearm in the commission of a felony, and one count of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.