Conviction in death that sent wrong man to prison

AP News
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Posted: Jan 18, 2012 2:37 PM
Conviction in death that sent wrong man to prison

A jury convicted a man Wednesday of the 1986 killing of a mother of four, a crime for which another man served 20 years in prison before being exonerated by new DNA tests.

The New Haven Superior Court jury found 47-year-old Kevin Benefield, formerly of New York City, guilty of murder and felony murder during its second day of deliberations. Both charges carry a penalty of 25 to 60 years in prison. Sentencing is set for March 23.

Jurors found that the former Bronx resident killed 30-year-old Barbara Pelkey, whose nude body was found at a manufacturing company where she worked in her hometown of Wallingford. Authorities said Pelkey was raped.

Another man, Kenneth Ireland, was convicted of killing Pelkey and served 20 years in prison before being released in August 2009 based on new DNA testing that showed he could not have committed the crime. Ireland is seeking $8 million from the state under Connecticut's wrongful incarceration law.

After the verdicts, one of Pelkey's children, Kathryn Davitt, cried as she read a statement by her family saying that Benefield's convictions were not a cause to celebrate.

"Some of the forgotten people affected as a direct result of this crime include our father, Arthur Pelkey Sr., who took his own life as a result of losing his wife to this horrific crime," she said. "The four of us, her children, ... grew up without either parent, missing out on the relationships and stability most people take for granted."

Davitt added, "The death of our mother has destroyed so many lives in the course of 25 years."

Benefield worked at a catering and car business in the same Wallingford building where Pelkey worked, while Ireland worked at a local sandwich shop. Investigators looking into Pelkey's death took a sample of Benefield's saliva in 1986 and ended up submitting it to the state police crime lab in 2009 because of new DNA technology that had been developed. Testing linked Benefield's saliva sample to the killing, police said.