Update: New details emerge in death of Johnson City woman; boyfriend charged with murder

Becky Campbell • Oct 5, 2012 at 5:10 PM

A Johnson City man paroled three months ago choked and beat his girlfriend to death before weighing down her body and dumping it off a Carter County bridge last weekend, city police confirmed Friday.

Steven Odell Bennett, 31, 16912 Orleans St., Johnson City, is now charged with second-degree murder and abuse of a corpse for the death of 28-year-old Vonda Berry Marshall Donaldson.

Her body was recovered late Wednesday from Watauga Lake near the Butler Bridge after officers and the Carter County Rescue Squad spent two days of searching the water with sonar equipment.

Donaldson was reported missing around 7:30 p.m. Sunday after her family spent the day trying to locate her. They knew something was wrong when she failed to show up to pick up her two daughters that evening.

Her mother, Rosie Jenkins, filed the missing persons report with Johnson City police and the investigation into her disappearance began.

But it was already too late for Donaldson.

About an hour later, around 8:30 p.m. Norma Arnett called 911 to report that her son, Bennett, told her he had killed Donaldson and planned to “dump” her body.

Bennett had apparently told his mother that he’d “choked Vonda and beat her after they had gotten into a verbal altercation,” according to the warrant filed in Washington County General Sessions Court by Investigator Joe Harrah.

No other details about how Donaldson died were revealed in the court document.

When police found Bennett early Monday morning at Leland Trailer Park, they also found Donaldson’s vehicle.

Police said Bennett had what appeared to be blood on his pants and shoes and it was also found in the trunk of Donaldson’s car.

He was taken into custody for questioning and also served with a violation of parole. That allowed authorities to hold Bennett without bond.

He also has no bond on the new charges.

Also on Monday, Bennett sent word through personnel at the Washington County Detention Center that he wanted to talk to investigators about Donaldson.

According to the warrant, Bennett told Harrah and Sgt. Billy Church that he choked Donaldson to death then wrapped her body in a motorcycle tarp, weighted her down and threw her off the bridge.

An autopsy was completed on Donaldson’s body, but none of that information was released.

Bennett will be arraigned on the charges in sessions court Monday.

The second-degree murder charge would indicate that prosecutors don’t believe Bennett had a preformed intention to kill Donaldson.

Second-degree murder is a “knowing killing,” according to state law. It’s a Class A felony that carries 15-60 years in prison, depending on a person’s criminal history.

Bennett already has a lengthy criminal history and has previously been sentenced as a “persistent” offender.

He was placed on parole by the Board of Probation and Parole in June after serving almost half of a total 22-year prison sentence for multiple convictions, including several auto thefts and attempted aggravated kidnapping.

The kidnapping happened in the parking lot of a now-closed bar on West Walnut Street when Bennett asked for directions from three young women.

He grabbed one of the girls and pulled her into the stolen car he was driving, but she was able to fight herself free from his grip and escape.


Below is the original post of Bennett's arrest


A man police already had in custody has been charged with the murder of a Johnson City woman.

Johnson City Police Department Capt. Mike Street said 31-year-old Steven Odell Bennett, a recent parolee from the Tennessee Department of Correction, was charged with second-degree murder in the death of Vonda Berry Marshall Donaldson, 28.

Police also charged Bennett with abuse of a corpse.

Donaldson's body was found in Watauga Lake in Carter County Wednesday evening.

Keep checking JohnsonCityPress.com for more information.

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