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Neighbor charged in elderly Carter Co. woman's death

John Thompson • Aug 12, 2017 at 10:49 AM

ELIZABETHTON — A man living directly behind the home where an 89-year-old woman was found beaten a month ago has been charged in her death.

The Carter County Sheriff's Department announced Friday that Chad Anthony Benfield, 672 Highway 91, was charged with felony murder and especially aggravated burglary.

Mary Nolen, 128 Dan Bowers Road, was discovered injured inside her residence on July 14 by her daughter and granddaughter, who had come to clean the home. Nolen was suffering from significant bruising to her chin and neck, which led her family to suspect she had been assaulted.

Although her injuries made it difficult for her to speak, she confirmed to members of the Carter County Rescue Squad that she had been assaulted by nodding her head. She was being transported by ambulance to the hospital.

Nolen died at Johnson City Medical Center on July 26 from her injuries. The sheriff's department press release announcing Benfield's arrest said Nolen "never fully regained consciousness and being in a state of progressively deteriorating health since being discovered injured on July 14th."

An autopsy was conducted July 27. The press release said the autopsy revealed subdural hematomas of the skull and brain, which indicated blunt force trauma, which was consistent with injuries sustained during an assault. Bruising was also present on the tops of both Nolen's forearms, along with contusions on the face, scalp, chin and neck.

On Aug. 8, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigations Crime Laboratory reported finding the DNA profile of an unknown male on fingernail clippings on Nolen's left and right hands. Based upon the discovery of this DNA profile, a search was conducted through the Combined DNA Index System and an association was made with Benfield.

The sheriff's department reported that a search for Benfield indicated he lived in a residence at 672 Highway 91, which is directly behind Nolen's home at 128 Dan Bowers Road. The sheriff's department learned Benfield had been released from a South Carolina prison in December after serving a 16-year sentence on four counts of residential burglary.

On his release, Benfield remained on probation out of South Carolina with supervision status in Tennessee until his arrest earlier this week on a violation of probation warrant.

On Aug. 10, investigators from the Carter County Sheriff's Department traveled to Gaffney, South Carolina, to interview Benfield’s former fiancee. The department's press release said she and Benfield had lived together at the residence at 672 Highway 91 from the time of Benfield's release from prison until Friday, July 14.

According to the press release, the woman said that late on the evening of July 13 she and Benfield argued until she went to bed at 1 a.m. on July 14. She said she was unaware of Benfield's whereabouts until approximately 8 a.m. Later that day she made the decision to terminate her relationship with Benfield.

While packing up to leave the residence, she discovered a set of sheets that were wadded up beneath a pile of laundry on a futon in the basement of the residence. She told investigators she did not recognize the sheets. She said all the sheets in the residence were either king- or queen-sized and these sheets were smaller.

She said that when she picked up the sheets, she also found a night gown and bathrobe.

When Nolen's family reported her assault to the sheriff's department, they said her sheets were missing.

Benfield was interviewed by the sheriff's department on Friday. The press release said he denied having contact with Nolen or being in Nolen's residence.

Based upon the forensic evidence and collective investigative efforts, the Sheriff's Department charged Benfield with felony murder and especially aggravated burglary. His bond was set at $500,000. The previous bond on the fugitive from justice warrant and violation of probation out of South Carolina was set at $25,000.

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