The retrial of a man charged in an Horry County murder that happened more than two decades ago began this week.
Prosecutors said 57-year-old Gary Wayne Bennett, who has been incarcerated for nearly 20 years, killed Eva Marie Martin.
Martin was found dead in her Little River Road home on May 23, 2000. Her throat was slit and her pants had been pulled down.
Bennett, however, has maintained his innocence. He is being tried on charges of murder, armed robbery, first-degree burglary and conspiracy to kidnap.
Initially, police charged Bennett and a man named Andrew Lindsay with the murder.
Prosecutors allege the murder stemmed from a plot concocted by the two of them to rob a Surfside Beach area Taco Bell where Martin and the mother of Bennett’s child both worked.
The state contends Bennett and Lindsay wanted to get the combination to the restaurant’s safe.
Lindsay received a plea deal that allowed him to admit to being an accessory after the fact. Lindsay testified that he and Bennett were at Martin’s home when he overheard him killing her while he was in another room.
Lindsay was convicted of murdering a woman in Illinois in the 1990s, but that information was not presented at Bennett’s trial. Attorneys said Lindsay is set to testify this week.
Although Bennett has proclaimed his innocence, he was convicted of murder and armed robbery on Aug. 14, 2002. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole. Bennett’s conviction was upheld by the appeals court, so he sought post-conviction relief, or PCR, to secure a new trial.
In his pursuit of PCR, Bennett said his trial attorney Johnny Gardner, who is now the Horry County Council chairman, had been ineffective.
Bennett was successful in 2014, leading to his new trial that started Monday with jury selection.
Assistant Solicitor Mary-Ellen Walter said that before Martin was killed, she lived a fairly normal life. She lived with her roommate in a trailer and worked.
Bennett and Lindsay, she said, were co-workers in a pest control business and would take others’ money and belongings.
The prosecution contends Bennett grew “obsessed” with stealing money from the Taco Bell.
Walter said Bennett told Martin of his planned robbery but that she refused to take part.
Bennett stole her keys to the restaurant and made copies, but he and Lindsay did not have the combination.
The day of the murder, Walter said, Bennett and Lindsay went to Martin’s home; she used the words “subterfuge” and “trickery” to describe how they were able to get in.
Lindsay was in another room and overheard Bennett and Martin talking. The conversation grew heated, according to Walter, before things got quiet.
Lindsay walked into a bedroom and saw Bennett standing over Martin and throwing things, the lawyer said.
Bennett ended up leaving the home with bloodied hands and a towel, knife and purse, the state argued. Martin's body was discovered by her roommate that night, Walter said.
Walter urged the jury to focus on what happened to Martin and not any “red herrings.”
Defense attorney Aimee Zmroczek stressed her client is not guilty of murdering Martin, who was his friend.
“Gary wasn’t there,” she said.
His case is one of “innocence covered up by incompetence and lies,” she repeated.
The attorney also said the state’s evidence is not going to make sense. Zmroczek characterized Lindsay as a liar.
The defense emphasized that “a few bad apples” in law enforcement “have ruined this investigation” and that police overlooked items such as at least one boxcutter and scissors.
The trial will resume Wednesday. Check MyHorryNews.com for updates.