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Man pleads no contest in Olivehurst shooting, then freed
Saying he wanted to grieve for his cousin and friend, Bryan Lee Benningfield pleaded no-contest Monday to felony charges in connection with last week's accidental shooting death of Michael Callison.
"I'm just sad and want to go home and be with my cousin," Benningfield told Yuba County Superior Court Judge Julia L. Scrogin on Monday afternoon.
Benningfield, 39, pleaded to single felony counts of being a felon in possession of a firearm and being a felon in possession of ammunition. Benningfield also admitted to a prior "strike" conviction from nearly 20 years ago.
Prosecutors said Benningfield was convicted of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence in 1995. Details on that case were not available Monday.
In a courtroom full of friends and family, Benningfield broke down in tears under routine questioning from the judge.
"I know I can't change it, but I want to go and grieve," Benningfield said. "I want to get my affairs in order and bury Mikey."
Callison, 35, died Wednesday shortly after he was accidentally shot and killed while he and Be ningfield were cleaning out a family member's garage in the 4200 block of Rose Avenue in Olivehurst. Benningfield was handling a .22-caliber rifle that discharged in his hands, striking Callison in the neck with a single round.
The loaded weapon had apparently been stored in the garage for an undetermined amount of time.
Benningfield was arrested a few hours later.
Yuba County District Attorney Pat McGrath has called it a "pure accident."
Callison's parents were in the courtroom Monday and expressed love and support for Benningfield.
"That's a good man in there," Callison's father, Jack, told the Appeal-Democrat afterward. "He and my son were not just cousins, they were brothers."
As part of his plea deal, prosecutors agreed to cut his prison exposure by more than half. Benningfield faces anything from straight probation to just more than two years in prison. Yuba County probation officers are ordered to make a sentencing recommendation by September.
If Benningfield violates any part of his agreement or fails to appear in September, he could face more than seven years behind bars, but Scrogin said she believed Benningfield would honor his promise.
"I wouldn't let you out if I didn't think you'd follow through with it," Scrogin said.
The judge's announcement was followed by a brief and unusual exchange between a judge and defendant, with Scrogin expressing her condolences directly to Benningfield and asking him how he was holding up under the strain.
"Oh, it's so hard," Benningfield replied, briefly breaking down in tears again.
Deputy District Attorney Mike Byrne said releasing Benningfield was the right thing to do because Callison's family supported the decision. Byrne acknowledged it is unusual for prosecutors to support the release of a felon prior to sentencing on a fresh felony charge.
"It is what it is," Byrne said. "He showed remorse immediately and now he has to live up to it."
Several family members thanked the judge and prosecutors immediately following Monday's proceedings.
Benningfield's family declined comment Monday.
He was released a short time later from the Yuba County Jail on a signed promise to appear in court Sept. 17 for sentencing.
Callison's parents left the court house with Benningfield's mother to wait for his release together.
CONTACT Rob Parsons at email@example.com or 749-4785. Find him on Facebook at /ADcrimebeat or on Twitter at @ADcrimebeat.