A man was convicted of first-degree murder Monday for the fatal stabbing of an Ocean Beach resident whose body remains missing.
Brian Eleron Hancock of National City, 49, was found guilty of murdering 68-year-old Peter Bentz at the victim’s apartment on Nov. 21, 2017.
Deputy District Attorney Jeff Dort alleged that Hancock killed Bentz because he believed the victim posted a compromising video online of Hancock having sex with a woman.
Hancock testified to having sex with Bentz, then the woman, at Bentz’s apartment. Trial testimony indicated Hancock believed he and the woman may have been surreptitiously recorded by Bentz, though no such video has ever been discovered.
After the killing, prosecutors say the defendant stole Bentz’s computer — presumably to dispose of the video — and spent the next few days purchasing bleach, a shovel, a table saw, a mattock, and a rug, all with Bentz’s credit card, at different stores, while driving Bentz’s car, according to the prosecutor.
Dort alleged that Hancock attempted to scrub the crime scene of evidence, though a police cadaver dog alerted officers to blood on a carpeted area of the apartment, which was later matched to Bentz.
Prosecutors believe Hancock buried Bentz’s body somewhere in Campo, though a search of the area never turned up any trace of the victim.
Hancock, who also has convictions for arson, burglary and drug possession, is slated to be sentenced on Feb. 26.
Hancock’s wife, Angelina, testified her husband told her he had killed Bentz and had trouble moving his body. Recorded jail calls played during the trial capture Hancock chastising his spouse for talking with police and asking her, “Did you tell them where?” though no specific details regarding Bentz’s death are discussed.
Defense attorney Jimmy Rodriguez alleged that Hancock’s wife, who was given immunity for her testimony, accused her husband after intense pressure from detectives and also told jurors that she was extremely hurt by his numerous extramarital affairs.
He said Hancock’s anger in the jail calls was related to other outstanding, unrelated criminal cases.
Another acquaintance testified Hancock told her that he stabbed Bentz seven times because of the sex tape, but Rodriguez told jurors that witness changed her story several times and cooperated with law enforcement for leniency regarding her own criminal cases. The witness initially testified during the trial that Hancock had told her he was going to “get” Bentz, then later revised her testimony to say Hancock used the word “kill” instead.
Bentz’s family members reported him missing after he failed to show up for Thanksgiving dinner at his brother’s San Pedro home on Nov. 23, 2017. He also missed subsequent engagements with friends, and his phone was not used after Nov. 21, Dort said.
Hancock’s cell phone activity, however, indicated that he was near Bentz’s home on the afternoon of Nov. 21, the prosecutor said. Hancock texted Bentz at around 2 p.m. that afternoon, asking if he could come over.
Hancock purchased a new cell phone the following day, whereas Bentz’s cell phone last pinged off a cell tower near Hancock’s home in National City, Dort said.
During the initial search for Bentz, a license plate reader indicated his car was near Logan Heights on Nov. 25. Officers sent to the area did not find Bentz’s car, but did find his wallet — minus credit cards — , as well as his driver’s license, receipts and other property of his strewn about the location where his car was last seen, Dort said.
A bloody napkin or paper towel found in the pile of items carried DNA from both Bentz and Hancock, according to the prosecutor, who alleged it was used by Hancock to mop up the crime scene.
Rodriguez alleged the DNA evidence was not as airtight as it seemed, and that Hancock’s frequent visits to Bentz’s apartment was a more reasonable explanation for the presence of his DNA.
Bentz’s car was eventually discovered in Mira Mesa on Dec. 12.
Hancock, who testified in his own defense, said Bentz paid him for sex on some occasions, and on the day he went missing, paid Hancock $3,000 to appear in a sex video with him and three other men. He gave Hancock $600 in cash, then lent his credit cards to cover the other $2,400, the defendant testified.
Bentz also lent Hancock his car because the brakes on Hancock’s car were failing, Hancock testified.
Bentz’s phone was tracked with Hancock’s because Bentz had accidentally left his cell phone in Hancock’s truck just before the defendant left Ocean Beach on the night of Nov. 21, according to the defendant. He testified that he purchased a new phone in an attempt to save money by switching cell service providers.
Cell phone data tracked Hancock’s new phone to Campo during a four-hour period when prosecutors believe he buried Bentz’s body. Hancock testified that he was at the Golden Acorn Casino during that time, though no evidence was presented confirming his presence at the casino.
Hancock also testified that shortly before Bentz went missing, he told Hancock that he would not be attending his brother’s Thanksgiving dinner, and was instead going on a vacation to Mexico.