A retired federal agent charged with first-degree murder testified Thursday in his own defense before a packed courtroom in Judge Steve Burgess’ 158th District Court.
Gary Lee Landers, 58, of Paint Rock, is on trial on a charge that he shot and killed 49-year-old Richard Benovic — his girlfriend’s estranged husband — in a parking lot near the Denton Police Department on May 7, 2010.
Landers was working as an air safety investigator for the Federal Aviation Administration on a two-year temporary detail from another agency before he retired, said Lynn Lunsford, a spokesman for the FAA.
During a sometimes-emotional testimony, Landers told jurors he was scared for himself and his girlfriend, Ana Benovic, after they arrived to drop off her two children in a custody transfer. He said he felt something wasn’t right.
Landers told jurors Richard Benovic had threatened their lives multiple times in confrontations during months of custody and divorce proceedings. He said Benovic used multiple expressions to convey the threats.
“Only once did he say the word ‘kill,’” Landers said.
The Benovics had two children together, a 13-year-old son with special needs and a 9-year-old girl. Landers testified that Richard Benovic would direct vulgar language and gestures toward him, even in front of his little girl.
Landers said the day before they were to bring the children to see their father for visitation, a judge ordered them to drop the children off at the Denton Police Department. They were also going to exchange vehicles — the minivan that Ana Benovic had, which was handicapped-accessible for the Benovics’ son, was to be exchanged in clean condition for Richard Benovic to use. Landers was court-ordered to not drive Richard Benovic’s vehicle during the exchange, he testified.
When they arrived for the handoff, Landers told jurors that he thought he was “a microsecond away from being knocked unconscious” after Richard Benovic started an altercation in the parking lot.
“I knew I couldn’t stand up to him in a fistfight,” Landers said after testifying that he had two bad knees that day.
Landers told jurors he asked Richard Benovic to back away multiple times and at one point, when he noticed Benovic’s fist, he pulled his gun from his holster.
He said he gave a warning and when he saw Benovic starting to come closer, he fired the first round, not realizing he had shot him.
“I thought I missed,” Landers said.
Another two shots were fired.
Landers said he thought if Richard Benovic got to him and his gun, he would be dead.
He said after the shots, he started getting tunnel vision and watched Richard Benovic kneel, then fall to the ground.
With the 9-year-old girl watching just feet away, he said he became emotional and thought to himself, “How could I be the one to kill her father?”
Landers said he attempted to call 911 and fumbled, but immediately waved down an officer driving down the road.
With his law enforcement background, he was trained to know the bullet wounds he saw were life-threatening and asked the police upon arrival to call for an ambulance, he testified.
Landers’ testimony lasted more than an hour, and Burgess dismissed the jury during a break due to the winter weather conditions. The trial is expected to resume at 8:30 a.m. Monday at the Denton County Courts Building.
MEGAN GRAY can be reached at 940-566-6885 and via Twitter at @MGrayNews.