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No evidence slain child had been abused


© St. Petersburg Times, published June 20, 1998

TAMPA -- An autopsy of Joey Bennett found no signs the 4-year-old had been abused in the months before being fatally shot in the face, according to a state investigative file released Friday.
Joey Bennett.
[Family photo]

The finding, by Dr. Lee Miller of the Hillsborough County Medical Examiner's Office, supports statements from the state Department of Children and Families about Hank Earl Carr, the man who shot Joey and three law enforcement officers May 19.

Several months before the shooting, the state had received two child abuse allegations about Carr and investigators had an uneasy feeling after interviewing him.

But investigators found no evidence of abuse on Joey or his sister, 5-year-old Kayla Bennett, and thus had no justification for removing the children from the custody of Carr and their mother, Bernice Bowen, before the shooting.

After being taken into custody in Joey's death, Carr used a hidden key to unlock his handcuffs, grabbed a gun and killed Tampa police detectives Randy Bell and Ricky Childers. Carr then carjacked a pickup and fled up Interstate 275. He killed Florida Highway Patrol Trooper James Crooks and held a woman hostage for several hours before committing suicide in Hernando County.

In three different places, the Department of Children and Families file refers to information from Kayla that contradicted a claim from Carr and Bowen that the shooting of Joey was accidental.

That information, however, is sketchy and based on secondhand accounts of brief police interviews with Kayla.

The day of the shooting, a state child abuse investigator noted that she didn't get a chance to talk to Kayla but recounted some "very limited" information from a police detective who spoke to the girl.

"Child only said they ate breakfast and Earl (one of Carr's aliases) got rifle from corner and shot Joe," investigator Rochelle Theriault wrote.

At another point, an unidentified investigator's handwritten notes quote a detective as saying Kayla saw Carr shoot her brother and even "saw gun go in mouth." But the initial case summary from the medical examiner's office said Joey's wound was to the "right side of nose."

The investigator added "Mom is lying," though it is unclear whether that was the conclusion of the state investigator, the police detective or Kayla.

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