Forsyth County prosecutors are pursuing the death penalty against a Forsyth County man accused of murdering a Winston-Salem woman in December 2018, dumping her body in a trash dumpster on Country Club Road and then stealing a financial card belonging to the woman.
Mario Kennard Bennett, 32, of Brookhill Park Drive in Rural Hall, was indicted last month on a charge of first-degree murder in connection with the death of Shantika "Tika" Lashae Dunlap, a 30-year-old mother of three boys and one girl. Family members reported Dunlap missing on Dec. 13, 2018. Deputies with the Forsyth County Sheriff's Office found her body on Dec. 15, 2018, in a dumpster at 4843 Country Club Road.
Assistant District Attorney James P. Dornfried filed a notice on Oct. 27 in Forsyth Superior Court, saying prosecutors intend to pursue the death penalty against Bennett.
The next step is to schedule what is known as a Rule 24 hearing. At such a hearing, a judge will determine whether prosecutors can pursue the death penalty. Under North Carolina law, prosecutors have to choose among 11 aggravating circumstances in order to seek the death penalty.
It was not immediately clear when the Rule 24 hearing in Bennett's case will be held.
Indictments allege Bennett killed Dunlap the day before her body was found. According to an autopsy, Dunlap died from asphyxia due to suffocation. The autopsy also said Dunlap had petechiae, or pinpoint bruises, in her eyes and on her upper and lower gums. She also had blunt-force injuries, including abrasions and contusions on her head, neck, torso, her right knee, feet and her left hand.
Dunlap was found in a dumpster behind Juggs Growlers and Pints on Country Club Road, and according to the autopsy report, her body was wrapped in a blanket secured with tape. When deputies removed the blanket, they found a plastic trash bag taped over Dunlap's head and her feet covered with another trash bag that was taped at the ankles.
Bennett also faces charges of concealing an unnatural death and being a violent habitual felon. Bennett is also a registered sex offender. He was convicted in May 2005 of second-degree sexual offense. He was accused of sexually assaulting a 4-year-old boy.
The sheriff's office has released limited information about the Dunlap case, including whether Dunlap and Bennett knew each other. Judge Eric Morgan of Forsyth Superior Court has sealed search warrants until the criminal case is resolved.
Bennett was also convicted in January 2018 of second-degree kidnapping that stemmed from an October 2012 incident. According to search warrants in that case, sheriff's deputies had investigated Bennett on allegations that he raped three women and assaulted another at his house on Brookhill Park Drive in Rural Hall. Investigators filed charges in the attack on one of the women. He had initially been charged with one count of second-degree rape and two counts of second-degree sex offense and assault by strangulation in connection to one of the three women.
He was also charged with assault by strangulation in connection with another woman, but in 2018, as part of a plea arrangement, Forsyth County Assistant District Attorney Elisabeth Dresel dismissed the other charges, except for the second-degree kidnapping and assault by strangulation that came out of the October 2012 incident.
In two of the alleged incidents, the women told sheriff's deputies that Bennett raped them several times and threatened to hurt or kill them. In the October 2012 incident, Bennett was accused of threatening to shoot and "gut" a Greensboro woman and he gagged her with a handkerchief.
Bennett was first linked to Dunlap's death through a charge of felony larceny, for which he has not yet been indicted. An arrest warrant alleged that Bennett stole a Federal Credit Union bank card from Dunlap on Dec. 14, 2018, the day before her body was found. He also has been charged with interfering with an electronic device. Bennett was on probation at the time of Dunlap's death for the second-degree kidnapping conviction.
He is in the Forsyth County Jail with no bond allowed on the murder charge.
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