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Kayla Bennett won't testify

Prosecutors decide there could be "residual trauma" for the 6-year-old if she testifies against her mother, Bernice Bowen.

By SUE CARLTON

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 3, 1999


TAMPA -- Kayla Bennett, who saw her younger brother killed with a high-powered assault rifle, won't be called to testify at her mother's trial next week, prosecutors decided Wednesday.

Kayla was 5 when she watched Hank Earl Carr, her mother's boyfriend and a wanted felon, kill her 4-year-old brother, Joey, inside the family's garage apartment in Tampa last year. During the investigation of the shooting, Carr escaped and gunned down two police officers and a state trooper before he killed himself.

Last week, a jury convicted Kayla's mother, Bernice Bowen, of being an accessory after the fact to Joey's death, Carr's escape and the officers' murders. Investigators said Bowen deliberately hid Carr's identity and didn't tell them of his hidden handcuff key or his vow never to return to prison.

This week, Bowen pleaded guilty to neglecting Kayla by exposing him to her violent boyfriend. That leaves only a single charge, the child neglect of Joey, scheduled for trial next week. Bowen has refused to plead to that charge unless it is reduced, a difference that could mean up to 10 years less on her sentence. Prosecutors refused to offer a deal.

Kayla, living with a great-aunt in Ohio, was expected to testify about life with Carr, who always kept guns and ammunition around the house. But Wednesday, prosecutor Michael Sinacore said his office weighed the need for her testimony against the possible damage it might do to her and decided they will not call her.

"Everybody that's involved with Kayla is concerned that even if she doesn't suffer immediate trauma, there could be residual trauma when she grows older and learns she played a role in her mother's conviction," Sinacore said.

If convicted of all charges, Bowen, 25, faces up to 29 years in prison.

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