Ohio executes man who killed lover over ATM card

Michael Benge (Source: Ohio Department of Corrections)
Michael Benge (Source: Ohio Department of Corrections)

LUCASVILLE, Ohio (AP) - An Ohio man who bludgeoned his girlfriend to death and then stole her ATM card to buy crack cocaine apologized to the woman's family before he died by lethal injection Wednesday.

Michael Benge's execution is Ohio's eighth lethal injection in 2010 - the most put to death in a year since Ohio resumed capital punishment in 1999. The previous high was seven in 2004.

Ohio's highest number of executions occurred in 1949, when 15 men died by electric chair. Ohio's execution total this year is second to Texas, which has put 16 people to death in 2010. Texas executed a record 40 people in 2000 - the most since the state began using lethal injection in 1982.

Benge, 49, of Hamilton in southwest Ohio, was convicted of aggravated murder, aggravated robbery and gross abuse of a corpse in the 1993 death of Judith Gabbard, his live-in girlfriend, who was upset about his drug use. Gabbard's daughter, son and brother watched Benge's execution.

"I can't apologize enough and I hope my death gives you closure," Benge said in his last statement. "That's all I can ask. Praise God and thanks."

Gabbard's daughter kicked her foot and held a bottle of soda in her hand as Benge spoke.

"As for Judy's family, I've caused you all more pain than you all can endure in your lifetime. I just hope someday you can find peace in your hearts," he said.

In February 1993, authorities say Benge killed Gabbard after arguing in her car along the Miami River. Outside the vehicle, Benge beat Gabbard repeatedly in the head with a tire iron. He weighted her body with concrete and slid it into the river, leaving her car stuck in the bloodstained mud. Benge swam across the river and found his way to a friend's house, where he confessed to the crime.

He told his friend's girlfriend that he intended to tell police he and his girlfriend were jumped by two black men and that his girlfriend was beaten. He later gave Gabbard's ATM card to two black men and urged them to use it to extract drug money, a move prosecutors said was intended to frame them for the murder.

The three withdrew a total of $400 from Gabbard's account for Benge's drug purchases. In seeking mercy, his lawyers said Benge was physically abused by a stepfather and stepbrother and began abusing substances when he was 11 - first alcohol, then marijuana and eventually cocaine. They said he has a brain impairment as a result.

(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)