A former federal investigator was found guilty of murder in the shooting death of his girlfriend’s estranged husband and was sentenced to 13 years in prison.
Gary Lee Landers, 58, of Paint Rock, who had been an investigator for several federal agencies, was convicted Wednesday of first-degree murder by a jury in Judge Steve Burgess’ 158th District Court in the May 2010 death of Richard Benovic, 49, of Justin.
Landers could have faced 99 years in prison, but the jury handed down far less than that after hearing additional testimony Wednesday.
Landers had testified in his own defense, saying he fired in self-defense after feeling threatened by Benovic. But prosecutors presented evidence that Benovic had told a Denton County constable that he, too, feared for his life.
Richard Benovic was in the middle of divorce and custody proceedings with his estranged wife, Ana Benovic, and they were exchanging custody of their two children at the time of the shooting.
Landers told jurors that he, Ana Benovic and the children had gone to a parking lot to hand off the children to Richard Benovic and to give him use of Ana Benovic’s minivan, which was handicapped accessible to accommodate their son.
Landers testified that he thought Richard Benovic made advances toward him and he fired the gun. Landers had been prohibited by a court order from driving the vehicle, and defense attorney Jim Lane told jurors during closing arguments Wednesday that Richard Benovic probably didn’t see Ana Benovic bent over behind the vehicle’s door when he approached the vehicle.
“He saw Gary Landers at the driver’s side of the door to the vehicle and he [Richard Benovic] thought, ‘This guy is violating my order,’” Lane said.
Lane said his client had more than 30 years of experience in law enforcement and described him as a man who wanted to be involved with helping handicapped children, including Ana Benovic’s son.
Testimony showed that Ana Benovic discovered Landers online through a dating website and that they met for the first time in January 2010 when she filed for divorce. Shortly after, Landers moved Ana Benovic and the children into his home in Paint Rock.
Lane challenged prosecution witnesses who said that Ana and Richard Benovic had a happy marriage.
“He [Richard Benovic] was involved in family violence, there is no doubt about it,” Lane said.
Assistant District Attorney Tony Paul told jurors that Landers wanted to feel like an important person while he talked about taking on drug dealers in other countries and training an FBI task force.
“He’s like James Bond or something,” Paul told the jurors. “Working these type of covert operations, do you really honestly believe he was afraid of him [Richard Benovic]?”
Earl Dobson, Landers’ local attorney on the defense team, said they accept the jury’s verdict. He said he is unsure whether Landers will appeal.
“He’s got some time,” Dobson said.
MEGAN GRAY can be reached at 940-566-6885 and via Twitter at @MGrayNews.