A man fatally stabbed an Ocean Beach resident over a sex tape they filmed and then hid the victim’s body, which has not been recovered, a prosecutor said Tuesday, while a defense attorney told jurors the men had a sexual and drug-oriented relationship but denied his married client had any involvement in the victim’s disappearance or presumed death.
Deputy District Attorney Jeff Dort told jurors in his opening statement that Brian Eleron Hancock, 49, of National City, murdered Peter Bentz at the victim’s apartment on Nov. 21, 2017, then over the following days bought cleaning products and tools to scrub the crime scene and dispose of the body, all while using Bentz’s credit card to purchase the items.
The prosecutor alleged Hancock made statements to witnesses indicating his belief that Bentz had posted a sex tape of Hancock and a woman online, which enraged the defendant.
Dort alleged that Hancock told a friend, “I’m going to get him,” referring to the 68-year-old victim, and told the woman in the sex tape, “I talked to him. I took care of it. I fixed it.”
Hancock also allegedly told his wife that he had killed Bentz, had trouble moving his body and had concerns that he didn’t bury the corpse deep enough, according to Dort.
Bentz’s family members reported him missing after he failed to show up for Thanksgiving dinner at his brother’s San Pedro home on Nov. 23. He also missed subsequent engagements with friends, and his phone was not used after Nov. 21, Dort said.
Hancock’s cell phone activity, however, indicated that he was near Bentz’s home on the afternoon of Nov. 21, the prosecutor said. Hancock texted Bentz that afternoon, asking if he could come over, according to Dort, who said Hancock also spoke with his wife on the phone twice that afternoon and sounded panicked to her, then left Ocean Beach around 7 p.m.
Hancock purchased a new cell phone the following day, whereas Bentz’s cell phone last pinged off a cell tower near Hancock’s home in National City, Dort said.
The defendant 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 Bentz’s car, the prosecutor alleged.
During the initial search for Bentz, a license plate reader indicated his 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 — driver’s license, receipts and other property of his strewn about the location where his car was last seen, Dort said.
A bloody napkin found in the pile of items carried DNA from both Bentz and Hancock, according to the prosecutor.
The car was eventually discovered in Mira Mesa on Dec. 12.
Police searched Bentz’s apartment with a cadaver dog, which alerted officers to an carpeted area, underneath which officers found blood later matched to Bentz, the prosecutor said. Missing from the apartment was Bentz’s computer, which Dort alleged may have been taken because it contained the sex tape.
Authorities scoured an area of desert near Campo where Hancock’s cell phone was tracked in the days following Bentz’s disappearance, but could not locate his body.
Defense attorney Jimmy Rodriguez said his client had a sexual relationship with Bentz, in which Bentz paid Hancock for sex on some occasions.
The attorney said Hancock filmed a sex tape with Bentz and other men, for which Bentz paid Hancock partially with free use of his credit card. He also lent Hancock his car because the brakes on Hancock’s car were bad, the attorney told jurors.
Shortly before Bentz went missing, he told Hancock that he would not be attending his brother’s Thanksgiving dinner, and was instead going on an unspecified trip, according to Rodriguez, who urged the jury not to let Hancock’s infidelity, drug use or prior criminal history, allow them to assume he was guilty of Bentz’s murder.
“Mr. Hancock may be many things, some good, some bad, but he is not a murderer,” Rodriguez said.
— City News Service