The grand jury returned the true bill on Jan. 5. Benfield has been held in pretrial confinement in the Carter County Jail after previously being arrested on murder charges. He booked on the new charges Wednesday.
The first count charges Benfield with first-degree murder by “killing Mary Nolen in the perpetration of or attempt to perpetuate rape.”
The second count charges Benfield with first-degree murder by “killing Mary Nolen in the perpetration of or attempt to perpetuate aggravated burglary.”
Criminal Court Judge Stacy Street set Benfield’s bond at $500,000.
According to the Carter County Sheriff’s Department, Nolen was discovered badly injured on July 14 when her daughter and granddaughter came to her residence at 128 Dan Bowers Road. Nolen usually did her own housework but was recovering from cataract surgery at that time.
Her daughter found significant bruising on Nolen’s chin and neck. It appeared to family members that she had been assaulted. While being transmitted to Johnson City Medical Center, members of the Carter County Rescue Squad asked Nolen if she had been assaulted. She nodded her head in a manner that the squad members took to be “yes.”
A deputy went to Nolen’s hospital room and asked her if she had been assaulted. She again nodded her head. Investigators took evidence from Nolen while she was in the hospital, including fingernail clippings and a sexual assault kit. These were sent to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation’s Crime Laboratory in Knoxville.
Sheriff’s Department investigators conducted a walk-through of Nolen’s residence, accompanied by family members. During the walk-through, a family member noted that a bottle of Tramadol, a green lock box and sheets from Nolen’s bed were missing. Nolen’s daughter also said that at the time her mother was discovered on July 14, her purse was missing from its usual location, which family members said was extremely abnormal. The purse was found in another area of the home, where it had never been seen previously.
On July 26, Nolen died at Johnson City Medical Center. An autopsy was conducted, injuries were discovered to her skull and brain that indicated blunt force trauma, consistent with injuries received during a physical assault. Additionally, bruising was still evident and present on the tops of both of Nolen’s forearms, along with contusions to her face, scalp, chin and neck.
On Aug. 6, the TBI Crime Lab issued a report that indicated the DNA profile of an unknown man was present in Nolen’s fingernail clippings. A search was done on the DNA profile in which an association identified Benfield.
A search for Benfield indicated he lived at 672 Tenn. Highway 91, which was directly behind Nolen’s home at 128 Dan Bowers Road. Benfield had been released from a South Carolina prison in December 2016 after serving a 16-year sentence on four counts of residential burglary. Upon his release, Benfield remained on probation in South Carolina, with supervision status in Tennessee.
On Aug. 10, investigators from she sheriff’s department went to Gaffney, South Carolina, where they interviewed Donna Gay, a former girlfriend/fiance. She told the investigators that she and Benfield had lived together at the Tenn. 91 residence from the time of Benfield’s release from prison until July 14.
Investigators also said she told them that on the night of July 13, she and Benfield argued until the time she went to bed about 1 a.m. Gay told investigators she was unaware of Benfield’s whereabouts until 8 a.m.
Investigators said she told them that later on July 14 she made the decision to terminate her relationship with Benfield. While packing to move, she discovered a set of sheets that were wadded up beneath a pile of laundry. Gay said she did not recognize the sheets, which were smaller than the king- or queen-size beds in their residence. Investigators said Nolen’s missing bedsheets were for a full-size bed.
When she picked up the sheets, Gay also found a night gown and bath robe with the sheets.
The investigators questioned Benfield on Aug. 11 and said he denied having contact with Nolan.
On Aug. 25, the TBI Crime Lab issued an official forensic biology report that said DNA samples from Benfield matched the DNA samples collected from Nolen.