Career Criminal Once Suspected in Stuart Shooting 'No Altar Boy' With AM-Stuart-Image, Bjt
Jan. 14, 1990
BOSTON (AP) _ He's become the symbol of racism in the tangled, shocking Charles Stuart crime drama, but even the attorney for the man originally suspected of shooting Stuart and his pregnant wife said William Bennett is no saint.
''Let's just say he's not the brightest bulb in the Christmas tree,'' said Robert George, Bennett's criminal defense lawyer. ''And he's no altar boy.''
By almost all accounts, Willie Bennett is a tough ex-con whose criminal record dates back to 1964, including serving time for shooting a police officer.
Bennett is currently being held on $35,000 bail since his arrest on a motor vehicle violation Nov. 1.
Charles Stuart's suicide, after he found out he had become the police's prime suspect in his wife's killing, cleared Bennett in the case. Bennett had never been charged with the crime, but he had been named frequently in police leaks to reporters. Stuart also had picked him out of a police lineup.
''He's done his time, he showed he was a man,'' said Veda Bennett, 29, who was home with her mother the night Boston police kicked in the door of their apartment and ransacked it.
John Julian, a spokesman for Suffolk County District Attorney Newman Flanagan, said all search warrants and affidavits in the Bennett investigation were ''aboveboard.''
Bennett, 39, was born and raised in Boston's Mission Hill, the inner-city neighborhood that gained national notoriety after Stuart told police a black mugger robbed and shot him and his wife after they left a birthing class Oct. 23.
''Bennett was the symbol of the mentality of 'get a black, any black,''' said Paul Parks, a veteran Boston civil rights activist.
Police have said they considered Bennett a serious suspect not only because of his lengthy criminal record but because he was fingered by members of his own community.
A key witness, Dereck Jackson, 17, said in a police affidavit that Bennett admitted to the shooting and claimed he told the couple not to look in the rear view mirror - the same account Stuart gave police. But on Friday, Jackson said police pressured him to make false statements.
Bennett is the oldest of seven siblings born to Pauline and William Bennett. He has two infant daughters by two current girlfriends, one of whom is expecting another child. He has a teen-age daughter by an ex-wife. His favorite foods are steak, pig's feet, black-eyed peas and his mother's home- fried potatoes, said his mother says.
When Bennett is not in jail, he ''lives off his women,'' his attorney said. When he gets out of jail he is likely to return to the pregnant girlfriend's run-down Roxbury apartment building where his name is on the mailbox.
George said Bennett has refused to talk publicly about the Stuart case. ''He's a tough con. To him, the whole world is a stranger.''
Bennett's mother, Pauline, who has been separated from her husband for years, lives in a four-bedroom apartment in a public housing project with daughters Veda and Tarita and their four children. Another daughter also lives in the project.
Bennett's father, William Sr., lives nearby but has what one daughter called ''memory problems.'' The family is not often in touch with him and he knows little about his son's case, she said.
White-haired and tentative, Mrs. Bennett sat at her kitchen table during a recent interview, surrounded by children and grandchildren. She is protective of her son and angry about the accusations that splashed her family across the nation's front pages.
''I'm angry for what happened but I'm glad my son is out of it,'' she said. ''I knew all along he wouldn't do nothing like this.''
The night Boston police raided their home for evidence was a nightmare, said Veda Bennett.
''They broke down the door and they had shields and guns in our faces. It was crazy. They were here for three hours. We couldn't even go to the bathroom.''
The family doesn't like to talk about William Bennett's criminal past, which his lawyer confirmed included 38 arraignments and 60 arrests. Bennett was first arrested when he was 14 on a charge of taking money out of parking meters.
He has spent much of his adult life in prison. In 1973, he was convicted of shooting a police officer, among other charges, and spent five years at the state prison in Walpole. He returned to prison in 1981 after being convicted on assault and armed robbery charges.
The Boston Globe reported Friday that Bennett once shot a cab driver who was a double amputee because the man had only $42 on him. Bennett's attorney was unable to confirm the account to the AP and police would not comment.
Pauline Bennett shakes her head and looks away when asked about her son's past.
''All I know is, whenever I needed him, he was there,'' she said. ''He used to make me go to the hospital when I had chest pains.''