Seven years ago, the body of a man who had been beaten to death was found along a Lansdowne street. Later, the body of his severely assaulted, barely alive wife was found lying nearby.
This morning in Loudoun Circuit Court, Anthony R. Roberts, the man responsible for one of the most horrendous attacks in the county’s history, was sentenced to spend the rest of his life in prison.
The hour-long hearing brought the legal case to a close, with county prosecutors abandoning efforts to have Roberts face the death penalty in the case.
As part of a plea bargain, Roberts, 27, pleaded guilty to the charge of capital murder with the condition that he be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. He also pleaded guilty to charges of aggravated assault, robbery, and abduction with intent to defile. The agreement did not specify a sentence for those charges, but Judge Thomas D. Horne sentenced Roberts to the maximum—life in prison on each charge.
William and Cynthia Bennet were walking along Riverside Parkway near the Goose Creek bridge early in the morning on March 22, 2009, when a van passed them. It stopped. Roberts and Darwin G. Bowman got out and grabbed them. By all accounts, what followed was a savage senseless beating on two people targeted at random.
Bowman pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in 2013 and was sentenced to 43 years in prison. The van driver, Jaime Ayala, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and was sentenced to 40 years in prison with 30 years suspended. Both agreed to testify against Roberts as the ringleader in a string of robberies that included the attack on the Bennets.
It took multiple surgeries and years of therapy for Cynthia Bennett to recover to where she is today. In court Monday, she testified for the third time in the case, walking to the witness stand with the aid of a cane.
“Everything we planned for is gone. We’ve had to start over,” she said. “We’ve had to find the courage to get on with our lives.”
Her daughter, Samantha Bennet, said the attack “shattered our lives.”
Sometimes she dreams her dad is still alive. Sometimes she sees her parents walking down Riverside Parkway. “I see the monsters destroy our lives.”
“I am filled with so much anger against these people,” she said. “I don’t know that I’ll ever overcome it. I’m helpless and hopeless. … Yesterday was Father’s Day and I’m sitting here in front of the man who took everything.”
In his comments, Roberts first apologized to members of his own family. “I never claimed to be perfect,” he said. He also offered an apology to the Bennets and said he would take responsibility for his actions. “I’m man enough to sit in prison and man up for these crimes, but I can’t bring back their husband and father.
He said he knows what it is like to have a father taken from him. His father is in prison. “I learned to be a man on my own,” he said.
Horne was the judge for the trials or sentencing of the other suspects in the Bennet case. Although he retired in 2014, he planned to see the case through to the end. Roberts was set for a 74-day jury trial starting in September 2017.
“Mr. Roberts is going to add his mug shot to the array of monsters and people who do monstrous acts, who we read about every day in the newspaper,” Horne said.
“You literally beat a man to death,” Horne said. “This wasn’t just misjudgment. This was uncontrolled anger to put other people’s lives in jeopardy.”
Commonwealth’s Attorney Jim Plowman said he hoped the sentence would help the Bennet family find closure.
He said talks about a plea agreement began in April. The trial was still more than a year away and even if Roberts were convicted, appeals in death penalty cases can drag on for a decade. Plowman said it was important to the Bennet family that Roberts never be given the opportunity to get out of prison and to harm someone else.
Plowman said there is only so much the court system can do. It can’t bring someone back from the dead or undo a wrong; it can assure accountability and provide a deterrent.
“Courts are helpless [in cases like this]. They cannot make things right for the family,’ Plowman said.