Preliminary hearing for accused in Donaldson murder delayed

Becky Campbell • Oct 11, 2012 at 9:31 PM

The preliminary hearing for a recent prison parolee now charged with murder and abuse of a corpse was delayed Thursday with little explanation.

Steven Odell Bennett, 31, is charged in the Sept. 29 death of Vonda Berry Marshall Donaldson. The 28-year-old woman was friends with Bennett and was not dating him, according to her family.

Johnson City Police recovered Donaldson’s body, wrapped in a tarp, from Watauga Lake three days after her family reported her missing. Bennett told them he threw her body off the Butler Bridge Sept. 30 after he choked her.

Police investigators and Assistant District Attorney General Michael Rasnake were in court and ready for a preliminary hearing Thursday. But Assistant Public Defender Phillip Ratliff, Bennett’s attorney, asked General Sessions Judge Robert Lincoln for a delay.

“We’re asking it be set on Oct. 30 so we can prepare,” Ratliff told Lincoln. After the hearing Ratliff said the seriousness of the charge played a role in asking for the delay, as did a letter Bennett sent the Press earlier this week that detailed what he said happened between him and Donaldson the night she died.

In that letter, Bennett claimed he and Donaldson had sex and he choked her, accidentally killing her in the process.

Police found Bennett in possession of Donaldson’s car at Leland Trailer Park in Johnson City early on Oct. 1. In a court document, an investigator said it appeared there was blood on Bennett’s pants, shoes and in the trunk of Donaldson’s car.

Bennett was paroled in June after serving 45 percent of a total 22-year sentence on multiple convictions, including several vehicle thefts and one violent crime, attempted aggravated kidnapping.

Bennett is jailed on a $100,000 bond, but he’s also being held without bond on a parole violation.

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