PORTLAND, Ore. - The family of a teenage girl who was murdered is outraged after learning that the suspect's lawyers knew for months where her body was but kept the information to themselves in the hopes of striking a deal.
"I'm pretty sure they've got kids," said Shaquita Louis, the victim's mother. "Would they want somebody to do that to their kids? Not say nothing and let their child decay like that?"
A defense lawyer made the statement in court on Thursday when 17-year-old Parrish Bennette pleaded guilty to first-degree manslaughter with a firearm in the death of 14-year-old Yashanee Vaughn.
"That decision was made in accordance with our sworn duty to zealously defend and represent Mr. Bennette," attorney Thomas MacNair told the court. "We want the family to understand that was not Mr. Bennette's decision and we ask the family to accept our sympathy and regret."
Sources tell KATU that Bennette's lawyers originally approached law enforcement with an offer to disclose where the body was in return for a deal involving leniency. Law enforcement refused to deal at that point and three months later, when Bennette's lawyers realized a deal was not going to happen, they finally decided to disclose where the body was.
The information fell under attorney-client privilege but the news was particularly upsetting for Vaughn's family, who had agonized over what happened to the young girl when she disappeared and spent countless hours searching for her.
"She lay in two feet of dirt, decomposing, and they knew where she was and wouldn't tell us? That is sick. That is inhumane," said Marsha Hayes, the victim's great aunt.
"I went through hell," Hayes added. "I woke up in the middle of the night screaming, having visions and panic attacks about where she could be, what might have happened to her. And the whole time the defense knew where she was and they wouldn't tell us? That is not OK."
Bennette's guilty plea was part of an offer that was put before him earlier this week. He was sentenced to 18 years in prison and under the terms of the offer, he will have no chance for parole or early release and no time off for good behavior. After he is released from prison, he will be required to be under supervision for two years.
The sentence was little comfort to the victim's mother.
"Eighteen years - that's not enough for me," Louis said. "When he gets out he'll be 30-something. He'll be able to touch his daughter. I can't touch mine."
"I would rather he had life," she added. "It still wouldn't bring my daughter back, but I would know that he would not be able to touch his."
Shaquita Louis, mother of Yashanee Vaughn, cries outside the courthouse at the plea and sentencing hearing for Parrish Bennette Jr., 17, Thursday, Jan. 17, 2013 in Portland, Ore. (AP Photo/The Oregonian, Bruce Ely, Pool)
Yashanee Vaughn disappeared in March 2011 and for several months no one knew where she was. Police had reason to believe she had met with foul play but their prime suspect, Parrish Bennette (who was 16-years old at the time), was not talking.
Bennette was the last person to see Vaughn alive and was indicted on murder charges early on in the investigation after detectives found evidence that pools of blood had soaked through the carpet in his bedroom. Isopropyl and bleach were found as well and fluid inside a vacuum in the home had traces of blood. A picture of the teenage boy holding a gun the day before Vaughn disappeared also surfaced.
Despite the mounting evidence against him, and pleas from Vaughn's family to tell them what happened to her, Bennette kept quiet.
Searches continued and the girl's family kept the case in the public eye by holding rallies, passing out missing person fliers and keeping Vaughn's name in the media. The girl's family and friends hoped to find her alive, even though deep in their hearts they felt something terrible had happened to her.
On July 15, 2011, their fears were confirmed when police found Vaughn's remains buried along a trail at Rocky Butte in Northeast Portland. Although no plea deal was reached, Bennette had finally opened up and told the Multnomah County District Attorney's Office where searchers should look.
Two weeks later, Vaughn was laid to rest at a memorial where family and friends gathered to celebrate her short life. And Bennette remained in jail, awaiting trial.
- March 19, 2011 - Yashanee Vaughn disappears after meeting Parrish Bennette at a Taco Bell on Northeast 82nd Avenue.
- March 21, 2011 - Yashanee's mother, Shaquita Louis, files a missing persons report.
- Sunday, March 27 - Detectives receive information that Bennette admitted to his father that his gun "went off" and hit Yashanee, and that he then disposed of the body. Bennette denies everything when questioned by detectives.
- March 28, 2011 - Bennette's home and his grandparents' home are searched. Detectives notice the floor in Bennette's bedroom has been recently cleaned and there is a steam carpet cleaner there as well. Police notice a slight discoloration in the bedroom carpet and when they pull it up, they find blood soaked in the carpet pad through to the wooden sub floor. Blood is also found on the mattress, walls, near a desk, in the catch basin of the steam cleaner and on some clothing. DNA testing finds it is the blood of Yashanee Vaughn.
- March 31, 2011 - Bennette is arrested.
- April 8, 2011 - Bennette is indicted for murder.
- June 6, 2011 - Detectives recover the gun they believe was used in the murder of Yashanee Vaughn.
- June 24, 2011 - Police outline the evidence against Bennette at a bail hearing, including the blood found in his bedroom and a picture of Bennette holding a gun the day before Vaughn disappeared.
- July 7, 2011 - Judge denies bail for Bennette.
- July 15, 2011 - Police announce they have found human remains at Rocky Butte. The remains are not positively identified as those of Yashanee Vaughn but the Multnomah County District Attorney's Office says Bennette gave them information to lead them to Vaughn's body.
- July 19, 2011 - Police confirm that the remains found at Rocky Butte are those of Yashanee Vaughn.
- July 30, 2011 - Friends and family hold a memorial service for Yashanee Vaughn to lay her to rest.
- December 9, 2012 - Parrish Bennette Jr. is charged with assaulting a corrections officer after officials say he refused to go back to his cell and then attacked a guard.
- January 17, 2013 - Parrish Bennette Jr. pleads guilty to murdering Yashanee Vaughn and is sentenced to 18 years in prison.