The Franklin News-Post|
P. O. Box 250
310 Main Street, SW
Rocky Mount, Virginia 24151
Wednesday, October 16, 2013
By K.A. WAGONER - Staff Writer
A former school nurse will serve 18 months of a five-year sentence for conspiring to hire a hit man to kill her friend's ex-husband.
Cathy Warren Bennett, 38, of Rocky Mount was also sentenced to four years probation and ordered to be of good behavior for eight years. The judge also ordered Bennett to have no contact with her former friend and codefendant Angela Nolen.
"I think it's clear that you are a good person who made a bad mistake," Judge W.N. Alexander II told Bennett. "But you were the first link in a chain of events that could have led to the murder of another human being. This is a serious offense."
Bennett pleaded guilty in August to helping Angela Robin Nolen, 47, find a hit man to kill Nolen's ex-husband, Paul "Jay" Strickler, in February.
During Bennett's sentencing hearing Thursday in Franklin County Circuit Court, her parents, sister and several friends and coworkers said Bennett's involvement in the crime was "uncharacteristic" of the woman who had spent her life helping others. They all agreed that her inability to say "no" to someone in need had prompted her actions in this case.
Bennett testified that she had advised Nolen on numerous occasions to contact the police in regard to Strickler's actions. She said Nolen feared for her life.
Bennett described a friendship with Nolen that deteriorated over time as Nolen's rage toward Strickler evolved.
However, Bennett said ultimately her concern for Nolen's child, whom she believed was mistreated by Strickler, factored into her decision.
"It was a horrible lapse in judgment," Bennett said of her crime, "and the biggest mistake of my life."
Dr. Lee Hagen, a forensic psychologist, testified that Bennett was the subordinate personality in her relationship with Nolen, and Bennett's actions arose from that dynamic. He said even though Bennett asked to be transferred to another school to get away from Nolen, she was "passive" in her attempts to extricate herself from the devolving relationship.
Nolen was a kindergarten teacher at Sontag Elementary School, and Bennett was a nurse at the school when Bennett approached another co-worker to inquire about finding someone to kill Strickler, according to Franklin County Commonwealth's Attorney Tim Allen.
"I have less sympathy for Mrs. Bennett than for the people that she has hurt," Allen said.
Nolen pleaded guilty in June to one count of solicitation to commit murder for meeting with an undercover state police agent and paying him $4,000 to kill Strickler.
Nolen is serving eight years of a 25-year sentence. She was also sentenced to four years probation with the special condition that she complete 2,000 hours of community service, which will involve teaching individuals who are on probation or in jail. The 2,000 hours of community service must be completed in three years.