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UCI graduate charged in shooting death of ex-wife

September 15, 2009 |  3:23 pm

A graduate student at UC Irvine appeared in court this afternoon for a scheduled arraignment on charges of shooting and killing his ex-wife outside his campus apartment because of a custody dispute over their 4-year-old son.

Brian Hughes Benedict, 35, did not enter a plea during the hearing at the Newport Beach courthouse because his attorney is out of the country, said Michael Jacobs, who appeared on behalf of Benedict's lawyer, Ron Cordova.  The arraignment was continued to Oct. 2.

Benedict is facing charges of one felony count of murder with a sentencing enhancement for personally discharging a firearm and causing death.

About 7 p.m. Sunday, Rebecca Benedict, 30, went to pick up her son from her ex-husband at his Verano Place apartment on the university campus. She had recently received primary custody of the boy, and Brian Benedict was ordered to pay more money in child support.

When she arrived at Benedict's apartment, he allegedly grew angry and attacked Rebecca Benedict by swinging a hammer at her as their son watched, authorities said.

She ran from the apartment, and prosecutors say Brian Benedict chased her down a nearby path with a firearm. He is accused of shooting at her several times, and striking her at least once.

Rebecca Benedict was pronounced dead at a hospital. It was the first homicide on the UC Irvine campus.

According to prosecutors, Brian Benedict went back to his apartment, got his son and put him in the car. Witnesses and neighbors physically restrained him until police arrived.

Brian Benedict, who lived alone except when his son came to visit, was working toward a doctorate in physics. He'd earned a master's from the school in 2004, the year he and Rebecca married, according to court records. Rebecca graduated from UC Irvine in 2004.

The couple, who separated in 2006, had been in and out of family court this year. The judge in the case ruled last week to more than double Brian Benedict's monthly child support payments to $920. He had argued that his payments should be based on his current salary as a research assistant -- about $26,000 a year -- not on the $85,000 a year he reportedly earned while employed for Northrop Grumman Corp.

Judge Nancy A. Pollard disagreed, ruling that "the care and maintenance of the child is more important than the care and maintenance of the father's schooling."

The records also appear to indicate that Brian Benedict had attempted suicide sometime during the prolonged court battle, stating that the court "further orders that if another incident of suicide or attempted suicide occurs," Rebecca Benedict could come to court alone.

If convicted, Benedict faces a maximum sentence of 50 years to life in state prison. The defendant is being held on $1 million bail.

-- Tami Abdollah, in Orange County


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