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Girlfriend's silence on Carr scrutinized

By PAUL WILBORN

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 27, 1998


TAMPA -- What Bernice Bowen didn't say the day two Tampa police detectives were killed could lead to charges being filed against her, a Tampa police spokesman said Tuesday.

Bowen, the 24-year-old girlfriend of Hank Earl Carr, spent hours with Tampa police officers after the shooting death of her 4-year-old son, Joey Bennett. But she never told police Carr had given them a false name and was a dangerous fugitive.

"She had plenty of opportunities to tell us what a monster he was," said police spokesman Steve Cole. "It's horrifying to us that she did not share that information."

Cole said homicide detectives are continuing their investigation into the shooting death of Bowen's son and the murders of detectives Ricky Childers and Randy Bell. Carr also killed Highway Patrol Trooper James B. Crooks before taking his own life.

With Carr dead, much of the current investigation revolves around Bowen's actions and statements.

"We are looking very closely at what she did and did not do," Cole said.

Charges, which could range from obstruction of justice to accessory to murder, would be determined by the State Attorney's Office. State Attorney Harry Lee Coe said his office will review police reports before making a decision.

Prosecutors said they don't want to give the appearance of retribution.

"You don't want to look like you're doing something vindictive," Assistant State Attorney Christopher Watson said. "That would be inappropriate. Unless you get word she's leaving town . . . there's no reason to rush."

Bowen remains in Tampa and is attempting to regain custody of her daughter, Kayla Bennett, who was put in foster care after her brother's death.

Joey Bennett was shot with Carr's rifle inside the family's apartment just before 10 a.m. May 19. Bowen and Carr took the boy to a nearby fire station, where he was pronounced dead.

At the fire station, Carr told police he was Joseph Bennett, who is actually Bowen's ex-husband. He said the boy was his son. Carr left Bowen at the fire station and returned home. Bowen, left alone with police officers, didn't dispute Carr's statements.

Carr was later taken into custody and questioned by detectives at the station and at the apartment, where other weapons were found.

The detectives were not aware they were dealing with a dangerous criminal. Carr was being transported in a car without a screen separating the front seat from the back.

"They were under the impression he was Joseph Bennett," who had no police record, Cole said.

Carr was being returned to the police department about 2 p.m. when he used a hidden key to unlock his handcuffs, pulled a detective's sidearm and shot the two men.

Tampa police Lt. Jane Castor said last week that during Bowen's initial interview about the death of her son, "she was aware that there were weapons inside of that house, and she was aware of Mr. Carr's true identity."

Although Joseph Bennett had no record, a check of Carr's record would have revealed an extensive criminal history and outstanding warrants.

Obstructing or opposing an officer without violence is a misdemeanor offense.

Investigators are also expected to look into whether Bowen exposed her children to abuse by her violent live-in boyfriend. Child neglect, a felony, is defined as "failure to make a reasonable effort to protect a child from abuse, neglect or exploitation by another person." The charge can come from repeated incidents or a single event.

"Certainly it is a concern of the police department as well as the Department of Children and Families to have (children) in a residence where assault rifles are kept," Castor said.

Police also plan to trace the origin of the guns, Castor said.
-- Times staff writer Sue Carlton contributed to this report.


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