An appeals court this week affirmed the murder conviction of a man sentenced 15 years to life in prison for driving drunk, crashing his pickup truck into a Lancaster home and crushing a 71-year-old woman to death in her bed.
Aaron Daniel Benson, 26, was convicted of second-degree murder, gross vehicular manslaughter and two counts of drunken driving stemming from a March 29, 2015, crash that killed Patricia Ann Holmes. She was alone in her house in the 1000 block of West Avenue J-12.
The defendant “downed two shots of whiskey and two 24-ounce mugs of Fat Tire beer” before getting into his truck to drive a quarter-mile home, according to a three-justice panel of the Second District Court of Appeal. “He ended up sideswiping two cars, and then plowed into the side of a house.”
When interviewed by police, Benson offered no reason for driving drunk and lied about where he was going, according to the panel’s written opinion.
Benson appealed his conviction, arguing that the trial court should have instructed the jury on the defenses of imminent peril and necessity after he testified that he drove while drunk in order to get away from a man who had grabbed his buttocks.
At trial, Benson testified that he closed down the bar with a friend and declined a ride home. When the friend said he’d follow Benson home in a separate car, the defendant agreed.
Benson stopped 100 yards short of his house, because he didn’t want the friend to know where he lived. When he went to shake the man’s hand, the friend reached behind him and squeezed his buttocks twice, leaving Benson “embarrassed” and “shocked.”
Instead of locking himself in his 2001 Toyota Tacoma truck and calling police or his mother in the house nearby, Benson drove around until he saw a house with the lights on and shortly afterward, hit the two cars and the house, according to the panel.
The panel ruled that “defendant was not confronted with an imminent peril. For these purposes, “imminent” means “certain, immediate and impending.”
“Because defendant had other options available for removing himself from the situation, but opted not to pursue them, because he did not ‘want to be rude,”’ the panel affirmed the lower court’s decision on jury instructions.
Benson—whose blood-alcohol content was more than twice the legal limit—had a 2011 conviction for driving under the influence of alcohol, according to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office.