The murder charge against a Johnson City man accused of killing a woman then dumping her off Butler Bridge was increased from second-degree to first-degree murder, with the presentment served on him Tuesday.
Steven Odell Bennett, 30, was originally charged with second-degree murder for the death of Vonda Donaldson in September. That’s also the charge he was bound over on after a preliminary hearing in Washington County General Sessions Court in October.
But after prosecutors reviewed their case further, they decided to take the grand jury an increased charge of first-degree murder.
“He was charged with second degree (murder) and bound over on second degree (murder). We indicted him for first degree,” murder, said Assistant District Attorney General Ken Baldwin.
“We though it was appropriate. It looks like a case of premeditated murder,” he said.
Bennett was arraigned on two charges — first-degree murder and abuse of a corpse. Judge Lynn Brown appointed the public defender’s office to represent him.
According to testimony at the October preliminary hearing, Bennett told police he strangled Donaldson as the two were having sex, then realized she wasn’t breathing.
Bennett told an investigator he noticed Donaldson had gone limp. When he realized she was dead, he wrapped her in a tarp, weighed her down with chains and threw her off the Butler Bridge.
Police arrested Bennett early Sept. 30 at Leland Trailer Park. Police said Bennett was wearing sweatpants at the time, but officers retrieved a pair of pants Bennett was wearing at the time of Donaldson’s death. A court document indicates there was blood on the pants.
Donaldson’s body was found Oct. 3 after Bennett showed officers where he’d thrown the body off the bridge after wrapping it in a tarp.
Donaldson’s family had reported her missing on Sept. 29 after they couldn’t reach her and she failed to pick up her children from their father that evening.
Bennett remains jailed on a $100,000 bond, but he’s also being held on a parole violation. His next court appearance is scheduled for April 16.