Prelim hearing held in Benz case

Benz

MARQUETTE — During an extended preliminary examination Tuesday, Judge Cheryl Hill determined enough probable cause exists in the case relating to the death of 11-year-old Tysen Benz for it to move forward in the Marquette County Probate Court.

A 13-year-old girl, who is not being named due to her status as a minor, has been accused of pulling an online prank in which she produced a false report of serious injury or death. Some believe the girl’s actions may have led Benz to take his own life.

She has been charged with telecommunication services, malicious use and using a computer to commit a crime in connection to the March 14 incident.

Marquette City Police Department Detective Chris Aldrich was called to testify Tuesday. He read aloud an exchange of Apple iMessages between the girl and Benz leading up to the incident.

Aldrich told the court the girl had used a friend’s account to tell Benz she had died, possibly indicating that she had taken her own life.

Detective Chris Aldrich of the Marquette City Police Department read the messages between Benz and the girl during an extended preliminary hearing in the Marquette County Probate Court Tuesday.

“Omg she’s prob dead,” read one message from the girl to Benz. “She’s dead,” read another.

Benz appeared to question whether the girl was actually dead, by texting things like “I doubt (she) would do that,” “I don’t think she’s that stupid” and “you can’t just kill yourself that quickly.”

He wrote, “(She) always cries and says she hates her life,” but again said he didn’t believe she would actually take her own life.

“… if she did that would shock me so much,” he wrote.

At one point during the conversation, Benz wrote “stop.”

Defense Attorney Sarah Henderson, right, and Probate Court Judge Cheryl Hill are shown. (Journal photos by Kelsie Thompson)

The girl texted the word “gullible,” which defense attorney Sarah Henderson said may have been the girl’s attempt to let Benz in on the joke.

Eventually, the conversation seemed to trail off, with Benz writing “answer on snap now,” referring to Snapchat, another platform the two were believed to have been communicating back and forth on that night.

The girl said in an interview with police she eventually admitted to Benz it was a joke, and that he was upset with her for pretending she was hurt or dead.

Aldrich said police are still awaiting information from Snapchat officials. Henderson said the Snapchat messages are critical to understanding the incident.

According to a police report of the March 14 incident obtained by The Mining Journal through a Freedom of Information Act request, Benz was found unresponsive shortly after 10 p.m., within hours of the alleged prank. He died on April 4 at an Ann Arbor hospital after three weeks on life support.

Jill Simms, Marquette County assistant prosecuting attorney, speaks before the court Tuesday during a hearing for the 13-year-old girl accused of playing an online prank that may have led Tysen Benz, 11, to take his own life.

A pre-trial conference has been set for 1:30 p.m. July 24. During the conference, which will not be on the record, attorneys will either attempt to reach a plea agreement or move forward to a trial.

Hill on Tuesday continued several temporary orders, previously recommended by the county’s probation department. The girl was told to continue an intensive outpatient therapy program, and was also ordered to not have any contact with Benz’s mother, Katrina Goss, as well as her two sons, ages 10 and 13.

The girl must remain in the custody of her guardian, and was also told she must not use computers or telecommunication devices, and should have no access to social media of any kind.

Anyone struggling with suicidal thoughts is urged to call the National Lifeline number at 800-273-TALK or Dial Help, an Upper Peninsula crisis center, at 800-562-7622. Dial Help has calling, texting or chatting capability available 24 hours, seven days a week.

Kelsie Thompson can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206. Her email address is kthompson@miningjournal.net.