Court ruling favors slain woman's father

The father of murder victim Stephanie Bennett will not have to pay a large sum to the owners of a North Raleigh apartment complex where his daughter died in 2002, the N.C. Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday.

The court rejected an appeal from the apartment complex's lawyers to make Terry Carmon Bennett pay about $170,000 in legal fees after Bennett, in the midst of a January 2007 trial, dropped a lawsuit he had filed.

Stephanie Renee Bennett, 23, an IBM contractor, was found raped and murdered in her ground-floor apartment at Bridgeport Apartments near Raleigh's Lake Lynn in May 2002. The crime stumped Raleigh police investigators, and it went unsolved for more than three years.

Carmon Bennett of Rocky Mount, Va., filed the lawsuit against Equity Residential -- a Chicago-based apartment complex giant that operated Bridgeport Apartments -- in May 2004. In the lawsuit, he accused the apartment complex of being negligent by not informing residents about a peeping Tom seen around the apartment Stephanie Bennett shared with a friend and her stepsister before Bennett was killed. A window in the women's apartment also appeared to have been broken and may have allowed the rapist to enter the apartment.

Drew Planten, a reclusive chemical analyst for the state who used to live in an apartment complex adjacent to Bennett's, was arrested by Raleigh police in October 2005 and charged with her rape and murder.

Planten hanged himself while awaiting trial.

A gun that was found in Planten's apartment had been used in the killing of an exotic dancer in Michigan in 1999.

Planten grew up in Michigan and attended school there.

A trial to determine the lawsuit began in January 2007 in Wake County, but Carmon Bennett voluntarily dropped the suit 20 days into testimony because of an unspecified issue. Lawyers for Equity Residential then asked Superior Court Judge Ripley Rand to require that Bennett pay $170,000 to cover the cost the company to defend itself.

But Rand ordered that Bennett would have to pay only $1,726. The appeals courts upheld that decision, finding that Rand was within his discretion to award the lower amount of money.

Bennett refiled the suit a few months after he had dropped it.