Alice Trappler

I read my first true crime book when I was a teenager back in the 1980's.  I am almost certain it was an Ann Rule book and I was hooked from then on.  Over the years I became not only overly interested about cases of true crime but also the law.  In 2003 I decided to go to online school and study to be a paralegal. Had I not been overly zealous and changed from getting an Associate's degree to a Bachelor's degree and then burnt myself between school, work and family I would have a degree.  In the end, I left school needing 10 credit hours for that degree. I am often encouraged to go back to school and finish out that degree, but that will not likely happen for many reasons.  For my part I do not see it as a complete waste because the skills I learned in my studies have helped me in other areas, the least of which is here at this blog.  

As I researched this case I almost had to giggle, mainly because if I did not I would have become angry, thinking about how often my husband has told me that I could never be a defense attorney.  I dispute that. I could defend someone that I truly believed was innocent, as well as I could defend someone based on the violations of any rights they may have received.  But no, I could not defend someone who I knew was guilty, that part is true.  To be fair though, I have no respect for any attorney, no matter what side they are on, that will twist the evidence or lie to fit their needs.  Prosecutors have been known to do this but more often than not you see it come from defense attorneys.  Now, I know the law states that everyone deserves a fair trial and adequate representation but that does not mean that I have to agree with things that attorney's do.  In fact, I believe the next case that I plan to blog about will have the same issues that I have with this one, a defense attorney who tries to deflect blame of their client and present a theory that no reasonable person could believe.  In my opinion all that does is make the attorney lose credibility but I suspect that, just like many occupations in this world, it all comes down to the almighty dollar and what they make off these cases.  With that said I will get off my soapbox now and tell this story and let you, the reader, decide if the defendant was guilty and whether her attorney did her, or the legal profession, a service or disservice.  

On April 19, 2012 at around 11 pm Frank Bennett was sleeping in his basement bedroom of his house in Dix New York.  His adult son, Daniel, who was back living with him was upstairs, right above him sleeping on the couch where he normally laid his head.  Frank was awakened first by the sounds of footsteps above his head and then by the sounds of a gunshot.  By the time he made it upstairs the only person there was his son, Daniel, and he was not going anywhere.  Frank called 911 and reported that obviously someone had come into his home and shot his son and his "brains" were scattered across the room. It was obviously even to Frank that his son was dead. 

It did not take investigators long to hear the name Alice Trappler.  The following morning Daniel and Alice were due to be in Family Court regarding a daughter they shared.  Some, most of those that defended Alice, claim that the hearing that morning was only a "first step" in Daniel establishing paternity of his five month old daughter, Lilly, that he had never been able to see and not a huge deal.  Others would claim that, first step or not, Alice was completely devastated by the proceedings at all and she had verbally expressed to many people that Daniel was a "monster" and that she would do whatever it took for Daniel to never see her daughter.  She would make many claims about things that Daniel had said but to be honest, despite there being some who agreed that Daniel was not the most gentle man, it appears that no one but Alice heard these things that she reported.  

By 4:30 the following morning the police were at Alice's mothers home, where she was staying, questioning her and informing her of Daniel's death.  By the time the investigation was all over the prosecutors felt they knew who had committed the crime, who had been behind it pulling the strings and the reasons why.  That did not mean that the investigation had been easy or smooth in any way.  In fact, four days after Daniel Bennett had been murdered a huge twist had occurred.  By that time they had pretty much determined that the shooter of Daniel Bennett was a man named Thomas Wesley (better known as Wes) Borden.  Borden had once been married to Alice Trappler.  Investigators wanted to talk to Borden but he was less than cooperative.  Daniel had been killed late on Thursday night and on Monday investigators had found Borden back in Pennsylvania where he had previously lived.  First he had eluded police in a car chase and they had lost him.  They later found his vehicle left in a parking lot and many officers began patrolling the area.  An officer found him and stopped him to talk to him but this time Borden took off on foot with the officers chasing him again.  Borden found his way to a railroad track and according to the police that were chasing him, turned to them, made a gesture and threw himself in front of an oncoming train.  Amazingly he did not die instantly but did a short time after reaching the hospital.  Borden had spoken to an officer from New York on the phone several hours before he, according to officers, killed himself.  He would apparently tell the officer that he had indeed shot and killed Daniel Bennett, but would claim that he had done it alone and it had been his idea.  Police were not buying it.

On the same day that Borden was jumping in front of a train in Pennsylvania, his stepbrother, Nathan Hand was being questioned in New York.  Borden had recently moved back to New York, first living with Nathan's brother, and then with Nathan himself.  Investigators wanted to search the home Borden was staying in and question those close to him, hence them finding Hand.  By the time it was all over and Borden was dead, Hand was telling his story to the police.  It would be a story that Alice's defense attorney would later say was completely untrue but was the story that not only got Hand arrested on the same day that his stepbrother had killed himself but got Alice Trappler arrested the following day.

Despite what Alice's attorney, Susan BetzJitomir, or anyone else said or thought, one can hardly argue that everything Nathan Hand was a lie.  Not only would he lead investigators to vital, hard evidence in the murder of Daniel Bennett, following leads based on his story found the investigators more information and in fact, matched more and more of his story.  So what did Nathan Hand have to say?

According to Hand, Borden and Trappler had, at least from his brother's perspective it seems, became close again in the last several weeks or months. Borden and Trappler had been married in the past for about four years.  For the most part they had kept in touch, largely because of Borden's two daughters from a previous relationship.  When the two had been married they had received custody of Borden's daughters.  By all accounts it seems their mother was in no position to care for them.  There were allegations of drugs and other things but nothing I could put in stone.  After Borden and Trappler divorced apparently neither of the girls' parents were in a position to care for them and in a strange twist of fate, Trappler had received custody of them.  A few years later the court decided to give custody back to the girls' mother but Trappler was given visitation.  This is very important because prosecutors would claim that it was this act (the fact the girls were given back to their mother) that had caused Trappler to lose faith in the family court system.  There is a part of me that disagrees with this position, at least in the way that the prosecutors portrayed it, although what matters most is what Trappler thought of it.  According to even her, she was devastated that the girls had been taken out of her custody, and I am sure she was.  However, in my opinion, the fact that she had received custody in the first place after her divorce was huge.  I have heard of very few cases in which this occurs, especially when both parents are still alive, and even still when the parents are unable to care for the child(ren) they tend to go either to another biological family member or in many cases the foster care system. This does not mean that I do not think Trappler was capable of taking care of them or even a bad person, at that point, it is just odd.  Secondly, for her to receive visitation after the girls were returned to their mother is also an oddity or a rare occurrence.  So, in my opinion, while it may not have been what Trappler wanted (i.e. the girls going back to their mother), it appears that the family court system had been more than fair to her.  

At any rate, according to Hand, Borden had begun helping Trappler in her quest to keep her daughter away from Daniel Bennett and through her court proceedings.  Hand stated that he was with Borden when he had shot Bennett but that until just before they reached the Bennett home, Hand had believed they were simply going to beat Bennett up.  Hand would claim that it was not until they were nearly to the home that Borden showed him the gun and expressed he planned to kill Bennett. When asked why he did not back out at that point, Hand said at some point he was scared, at another point said he was unsure Borden would seriously go through with it, and at yet another point apparently just wanted to help protect his brother (yes, technically they were step-brothers but by all accounts it seems that the boys may have been raised together or at least felt more like biological brothers and rarely used the word "step" themselves). Hand said that Borden told him that there was some sort of an alarm associated with the porch so they could not enter there but that he doors were always unlocked.  Hand would claim that throughout the evening Borden and Trappler had been texting with each other.  Borden knew before entering the home, one that by all accounts he had never been in before, where everyone slept and where he would find the victim.  Borden wanted Hand to be the "look out."  Hand said they parked down the street from the home and made their way inside carefully.  Hand said that he himself turned on the light but that he then left the area, presumably headed back outside and when he heard the gunshot he started running towards the vehicle and that Borden had followed.  Along the way Borden apparently unloaded the gun leaving the unspent shells on the way.  

Hand told investigators that he and Borden then went and bought a shovel and showed them where they had buried the gun, as well as where Borden had left his shoes in a dumpster.  Both the gun, and the shoes were found.  Hand would eventually make a deal with police to testify against Trappler in exchange for a guilty plea to manslaughter and a sentence of 19 years.  The following day, with all they had at the moment at hand, Trappler was arrested and charged with two counts of 2nd degree murder, one count of 1st degree burglary, one count of 2nd degree burglary and one count of 2nd degree conspiracy.  

As is the case with many cases, the investigation into the evidence does not end with the arrest of the suspects.  This was true in this case and much more would come to light before Trappler would go to trial on April 19, 2013, exactly one year to the day of the murder.  Prosecutors had to prove that Alice Trappler had set the ball into motion to have Bennett murdered, had known and provided details to those she knew would carry it out and in essence prove that "but for" Alice Trappler, Daniel Bennett would be alive.  The words "but for" seem so simple but in a court of law quite often they are two of the most important words you will hear.  

By the time the trial began investigators were confident that they could prove Alice Trappler's involvement in Daniel Bennett's murder.  Of course the defense council was just as convinced, or so they said, that they could prove her innocence.  Then again, remember earlier when I commented about cases in which a defense attorney gives an unreasonable theory to the jury, and the media?  Well this is just such a case.  Throughout the trial BetzJitomir would continually express how well she was doing when she talked to the press and how easily she can, would, and as time went on, did, at least in her mind, prove to the jury her client was innocent.  

So let's start with that the prosecution had.  Of course there was Nathan Hand's story.  In my opinion the prosecution made a brilliant move when they decided to make him one of the last witnesses in their case.  Sure what Hand had to say was of vital importance as it had led to much of the other evidence they found, but in the same respect, this was a man who had admitted being at the scene of a murder, helping his brother dispose of evidence and did so with the promise of a reduced sentence.  A jury often does not look completely favorable at witnesses such as he.  The prosecution also, because of Hand, had the murder weapon... a 12 gauge sawed off shotgun.  This was very important because this gun could be traced back to a man named Brent Bacon.  Bacon was described as Trappler's on again, off again boyfriend.  They had met years ago but had only started "dating" after Trappler's relationship with Bennett had ended.  I put dating in quotes because at the time Bacon was actually married.  After Trappler and Bennett broke up she had discovered she was pregnant and claimed that Bennett had assaulted her, as well as claimed that her "goat ranch" in which she lived had been broken into and she was certain it was Bennett.  Trappler's lawyer would make a big deal at the trial that she had not asked Bacon for the gun in which would later be identified as the murder weapon, which was technically true, but was not as relevant as it would be made out to be.  In fact, Trappler had asked Bacon for a gun some time before the murder occurred supposedly for protection from especially Bennett.  He would provide her with a 20-gauge shotgun.  He would testify in court that after giving her that gun he had in fact given her a 12 gauge shotgun (the one she did not ask for) because the other had been registered to his wife and he felt uneasy about it.  Trappler would claim that she had gone to "temporarily" stay with her mother because she feared Bennett and that at first she had taken the guns with her but that Borden had expressed he did not like the guns being in the home when his daughter's visited so she had taken them back to the ranch.  She would testify that a few days after the murder she had been at the ranch and while the 20 gauge was still there, the 12 gauge was gone.  She would claim that she had no idea what happened to it and "wondered" if Bacon had retrieved it.  The defense would claim that the gun itself was illegal as it had a sawed off barrel.  After her arrest audio tapes were made of her phone calls from jail and there were several calls between her and her parents in which she seemed overly concerned about getting a hold of Bacon.  For their part the prosecution claimed this was her attempt to make sure Bacon did not cooperate with the police in saying he had given the gun to her.  Trappler would claim that was not true. She would contend that she only wanted to get a hold of Bacon to a) have him do some things out at the ranch for her since she could not since she was in jail and b) to ask if he had taken the gun from the home.  Her taped calls however, would give the prosecution more leverage though because after learning Bacon had in fact been interviewed, and had cooperated completely, telling all he knew, she seemed to be devastated. In a previous conversation she had stated that if she did not reach Bacon it would be her "demise."  When Bacon testified in court as to the gun, the defense did all it could to cast a shadow of doubt to the jury suggesting that it was possible Bacon could have committed the murder.  There was absolutely no evidence what so ever that Bacon was involving in the murder.  He was also seemingly not involved in her court proceedings with Bennett.  Trappler had however asked Bacon to sign Lilly's birth certificate, but then again it seems she asked at least two other men to do the same.  This, for me, was one more sign that Trappler was doing whatever she could to block Bennett from being involved with his child.

The prosecution had learned that initially, or so she thought, Trappler had a lot of people willing to testify for her at family court, including some of Bennett's family.  However, according to the prosecution many of those people were backing out, including her own mother, although I found very little on why this was happening.  I, personally am confused about just what was going on. Trappler had an attorney to help her in the family courts, and apparently the court had appointed a guardian ad litem for Lilly.  Both, her attorney and the guardian testified at her trial for the defense.  They stated that this hearing that was scheduled for the next morning was simply a "first step" and really only involving seeing if the judge would allow or order, I should say, a paternity test. According to both of them, if the test was ordered, and in fact it came back that Bennett was the father, the next step would be to establish custody and later visitation so I am confused as to why she was planning on having witnesses at this particular hearing.  She had gotten Borden to sign what is called an "Acknowledgment of Paternity" but if Bennett was arguing the child was his then it is likely that the form would matter little if he could prove the likelihood that the child was his.  Apparently, or at least her story (that her family law attorney seemed to confirm) was that she was having subpoenas to both of Daniel Bennett's parents for this hearing on April 20th.  

Bennett's mother, Jill Dann, apparently had a rough relationship with her son and had actually not spoken to him in several years.  While she did not believe her son should have custody of his child as he was not in a position to raise a child at all in her opinion, she was also quoted as saying she did think he deserved visitation.  This seemed to be a recurring theme among those who knew Daniel Bennett.  It seems that they were realistic that he should not receive custody but did deserve visitation.  All of those people who testified claimed that they expressed these views to Trappler and her response was always the same... that Bennett would never set eyes on the child and she would do whatever it took to ensure that. It would be brought up in the trial that on the day of the murder subpoenas were to be served and that Borden would be the one to serve them.  Trappler would use this as the reason for some of the texts that occurred between her and Borden throughout the day of the 19th.  

As we all know text messages can be very vague to begin with and often they are extensions of actual conversations between people.  So, it is quite often like walking into the middle of a conversation sometimes. What those text messages mean was often a debate in the courtroom.  The prosecution had found several messages between Trappler and Borden that had occurred the day of the murder as well as the morning after on their phones.  However, they found many, many more when they talked to their perspective cell phone companies. Trappler had deleted many, if not most of the messages from her phone, and Borden had deleted a few of his own, many of the same that she had done. Investigators found this action suspicious and while Trappler testified at trial that she did not find it unusual because she and Borden "were friends" and texted extremely often that she was basically saving space on her phone, I could not determine if the only messages or things deleted on her phone were in fact these messages.  I found no other information that she had deleted conversations between other people on her phone also at the same time.  

Cell phone records would find that just a few hours before the murder Trappler and Borden had been messaging back and forth.  One of those messages that Trappler sent, and later deleted, said "Think we should stop texting... towers traceable???"  When confront with this at trial Trappler would only say that this was simply clarifying something Borden had said to her on the phone earlier, although I could find nothing that said what that "something" was. Soon after that text Trappler told Borden "I can't express my thanks to you for all of this."   There were other texts that seeming was informing Borden where Bennett was at certain times.  Trappler would claim that she was getting information about where Bennett was and doing because Borden was supposed to be serving Bennett's father, Frank, a subpoena and she feared if Daniel Bennett was home there would be a confrontation between him and Borden. She would testify later that she knew or had information that Daniel had gone back to his father's home and that she told Borden to forget about the subpoena, but she felt as if he was not "listening" to her.  In my opinion, this statement was simply a ploy to try and convince the jury that if they believed Borden had committed the murder, which seemed rather obvious (considering other information they had, including surveillance video of him buying the ammo), that she not only did not know about it but she had encouraged Borden not to serve the subpoena so whatever actions Borden took, he did them on his own.  

After the murder Borden texted Trappler repeatedly.  Once he said "Just leaving work." Another time he told her to wake him in the morning in case he overslept.  None of his text messages were responded to by Trappler, despite the fact that the following morning she would tell Borden, the police, and then later the jury at her trial that she had been up most of the night with her daughter.  The order of their texts the following morning seemed confusing.  At some point Trappler said "I wonder if he'll show up this morning....lol"  She would later say that was because there had been two previous hearing he had not attended (I am unsure this is true).  She would later tell Borden that investigators came to her door at 4:30 am.  The strange thing about this, if we're to believe she had no knowledge of the murder prior to that is it seems she did not tell Borden why the police had been there, or tell him that Bennett was dead.  I'm sorry but if someone tells me the police showed up at their door basically at any time, but especially in the middle of the night I am going to ask why.  

Trappler was the last witness in the trial and it seems that while in some areas the defense obviously tried to make her look innocent in other areas, in which there really was not a good explanation for her actions or statements they just skirted the issue.  When the prosecution had put Hand on the stand they had tried everything they could to discredit him, from bringing up prior drug use, to trying to saying the shoes found were not Borden's but Hand's and that he had been the shooter, not his brother and had made a deal to set Trappler up.  None of the theories that he defense came up with were reasonable.  Although one could argue possibly that Hand was more involved than he stated, or knew more than he said, which is often the case, the evidence of Trappler's involvement goes beyond just his words.  When the prosecution cross examined Trappler they pushed her on what they believed were her lies.  At one point they asked her about the "fraud" she had committed by having Borden sign the Acknowledgement of Paternity.  Trappler stood her ground saying that first off, her attorney had recommended that they do so, and secondly, that they followed the rules of the form and in her opinion no fraud was involved. The prosecution would later recall her attorney as a rebuttal witness who would deny that she had given this advice to Trappler.  Then again, to do so would have been morally wrong, if not legally wrong, and to admit to this could have gotten her in trouble.  The question would be at what point the attorney knew such paper existed. The prosecution also asked Trappler how Hand and Borden would know particular things about the Bennett house, such as the alarm and where people slept since they had never been to the home but she had been there several times.  The other question would be why would they need to know this information.  Of course Trappler did not have an answer other than to say it did not come from her. 

In the end the jury did not believe the defense.  However, to be fair, they would later say that Hand's testimony did not completely convince them either.  On May 8, 2013 they returned with a verdict.  They found Alice Trappler guilty on all charges.  They would later say that it was the text messages that finally convinced them all.  On the day of her sentencing before the judge could do his part BetzJitomir filed a motion for a new trial.  Her reasoning was that, now knowing that it was the text messages that convinced the jury of her guilt she believed (or so she said and by this point I don't trust her enough to throw her) they had used "one" that did not come out in the trial.  She did not press the jurors, or elaborate with any evidence as to what exactly that was.  Her bid failed and the judge sentenced Alice Trappler to 25 years to life, the maximum allowed. 

As I researched this case, and I expressed in the beginning, I was more and more irritated as I went along with the behavior of defense attorney Susan BetzJitomir.  Something just did not feel right about her at all.  Sometimes after my initial research of a crime is done I will go back and research some individuals involved in the case.  As I began to come to the end of putting this case together I decided I just wanted to know more about her and did a search just for her.  The more I read the more I knew my "Spidey sense" as I call it was pretty right on.  First I found a site in which there are reviews of lawyers.  I found it interesting that she classifies herself as a divorce attorney.  When asked to describe herself basically it is just a sentence saying how much of a percentage of her cases fall in a particular category.  She listed criminal as 20%. Her motto, at least according to that site was "aggressive representation."  That sounds all good unless in my opinion that aggressiveness is unethical or morally wrong.  I always look at comments and reviews with a grain of salt.  It seems so often that people who are angry or disgruntled tend to review more and when they are angry but I still found something interesting at this site.  There were two pages of reviews and I would say that they were equally good, and bad reviews by supposed clients.  Now of course they could have all been from the same person considering this is the Internet but what I found interesting is that BetzJitomir responded personally, ONLY to the negative comments.  Of course they were filled with excuses, that may or may not have been valid.  Then I found a site from a newspaper article that truly questioned BetzJitomir's role i this particular case.

Apparently before the start of the trial the prosecutor asked that BetzJitomir be removed from the case.  Apparently he had many examples of there being a conflict of interest with her representing Trappler but the two biggest involved the fact that just 7 months before his murder BetzJitomir had represented Daniel Bennett when he was charged with animal cruelty, and the fact she had previously represented Daniel's mother, Jill, in a drug case.  The judge in the case, although stated that it did seem to be a conflict of interest, allowed BetzJitomir to continue to represent Trappler because Trappler herself seemed ok with it.  The problem with this, although I did not see any evidence of it as of yet, is that seeing as Trappler was convicted it would seem to open the door and risk an appeal in Trappler's favor.  All an appeals attorney would have to say is that Trappler had inadequate representation and cite these issues and while a favorable appeal is not guaranteed it would be an iffy situation that it seems the prosecution was trying to avoid.

In my opinion it seems fairly obvious that Alice Trappler was behind the murder of Daniel Bennett.  She had made her feelings and goals very apparent when it came to what she thought of him and how she felt about him having a relationship with his child.  The fact that the gun used in the murder could be traced back to her leaves little doubt that she knew or was involved.  And sadly, the reality of it all is that it seems highly unlikely that Daniel Bennett would have gotten custody of the child and with his back ground and violent history (if she could prove it), she would have had a high chance of getting supervised visitation.  He was sleeping on his father's couch.  He was definitely not stable enough to have his own place or a place to keep the child long term.  Trappler apparently trusted his parents as she had allowed both of them to see the child so one could reasonably believe they could supervise Daniel's visitation if he got them, but even still that was down the road a bit.  This clearly seemed to be a case in which not only was Trappler all about control, as we have seen in many cases involving especially mothers, but it also appears that she got Borden to do her dirty work.  She would later seemingly downplay their relationship.  Nathan Hand testified that he believed his brother thought there was an opportunity that he and Trappler would get back together and in fact categorized their relationship as dating and yet she would just state they were good friends.  Was she distancing herself from him because she knew everything pointed to him being the shooter?  Had she strung Borden along making him believe their relationship had rekindled so she could get him to do this for her? No one will ever truly know because it does not seem that Alice Trappler will ever own up to her part.

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