Steven Odell Bennett (left) enters his no contest plea Monday in Washington County Criminal Court.
An accused murderer entered a no contest plea to lesser charges this morning in Washington County Criminal Court, earning him a 25-year prison sentence.
Steven Odell Bennett was set to go to trial in October for the 2012 strangulation death of 28-year-old Vonda Donaldson in Johnson City. The death happened in Johnson City, but police investigators and prosecutors said Bennett drove Donaldson’s body to the Butler Bridge in Carter County and dumped her into Watauga Lake.
He originally was charged with first-degree murder, abuse of a corpse and tampering with evidence.
On Monday, he pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and tampering with evidence. The abuse of a corpse charge was dropped in the plea arrangement.
Judge Stacy Street sentenced Bennett to 15 years in prison for the manslaughter charge and 10 years for the tampering charge.
According to testimony at his 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, 2012, 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, 2012, 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.
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