Conviction upheld in slaying of Ocean Beach man whose body was missing for years

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An undated photo shows Peter Bentz, a 68-year-old who was killed at his apartment on Nov. 21, 2017.

SAN DIEGO (CNS) – A state appellate panel Wednesday upheld the murder conviction of a man found guilty of stabbing an Ocean Beach resident, then dismembering his body and burying it in Campo.

Brian Eleron Hancock was convicted by a San Diego jury last year of killing 68-year-old Peter Bentz at the victim’s apartment on Nov. 21, 2017.

The prosecution had long indicated that the victim’s body was believed to be buried somewhere in Campo, and had not been recovered.

However, Deputy District Attorney Jeff Dort revealed at Hancock’s sentencing that Bentz’s skull was actually discovered in May 2018, but not positively identified through dental records until just days after the trial began. The information was kept from the jury, and sealed from the public under a gag order, as it was believed its disclosure might taint the jury panel, the prosecutor said.

Hancock was sentenced to 75 years to life in prison for the murder, plus an extra eight years and eight months for unrelated burglary and drug possession cases.

According to the prosecution, Hancock killed Bentz because he believed the victim posted a compromising video online of Hancock having sex with a woman, though no evidence of the video’s existence was ever discovered.

After the killing, the defendant stole Bentz’s computer — presumably to dispose of the video — and spent the next few days purchasing bleach, a shovel, a table saw, a mattock and a rug, all with Bentz’s credit card, at different stores, while driving the victim’s car, according to Dort.

The prosecutor told jurors that Hancock attempted to scrub the crime scene of evidence, though a police cadaver dog alerted officers to blood on a carpeted area of the apartment, which was later matched to Bentz.

Bentz’s phone was never used after Nov. 21, though cell phone records indicated Hancock was near the victim’s home that afternoon.

Hancock purchased a new cell phone the following day, whereas Bentz’s phone last pinged off a cell tower near Hancock’s home in National City, Dort said.

During the initial search for Bentz, a license plate reader indicated the victim’s car was near Logan Heights on Nov. 25. Officers sent to the area did not find Bentz’s car, but did find his wallet — minus credit cards — as well as his driver’s license, receipts and other property of his strewn about the location where his car was last seen, Dort said.

A bloody napkin or paper towel found in the pile of items carried DNA from both Bentz and Hancock, according to the prosecutor, who alleged it was used by Hancock to mop up the crime scene.

Hancock testified that he was borrowing Bentz’s credit cards and car partially as favors in exchange for appearing in sex videos Bentz recorded with other men.

According to the defendant, Bentz’s phone was tracked with Hancock’s because Bentz had accidentally left his cell phone in Hancock’s truck just before the defendant left Ocean Beach on the night of Nov. 21. He testified that he purchased a new phone in an attempt to save money by switching cell service providers.

Hancock also testified that shortly before Bentz went missing, the victim told Hancock that he would not be attending his brother’s Thanksgiving dinner in San Pedro, as was their family routine, and was instead going on a vacation to Mexico. Bentz’s family reported him missing when he never appeared at his brother’s home for the holiday.

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