Saint John man pleads guilty to 2nd-degree murder of toddler using a Ping-Pong ball

·4 min read
Karrson Bennett changed his plea to guilty in the death of a toddler in Saint John in 2021. (Karrson Bennett/Facebook - image credit)
Karrson Bennett changed his plea to guilty in the death of a toddler in Saint John in 2021. (Karrson Bennett/Facebook - image credit)

On what was to be the first day of a five-week jury trial, Karrson Bennett changed his plea to guilty in the death of a Saint John toddler in September 2021.

Bennett admitted he put a Ping-Pong ball in the child's mouth and intentionally caused the boy's death.

While the publication ban protecting the boy's identity remains in effect, the publication bans governing the details of the  court process Monday were lifted by Justice Kathryn Gregory of the Court of King's Bench.

The day started with more than 100 prospective jurors gathered in two courtrooms of the fifth floor of the courthouse. Meanwhile, on the fourth floor, defence lawyer David Lutz told the court that he arrived that morning prepared to start a five-week jury trial.

Lutz said he spoke to his client right away, and Bennett told him he wanted to plead guilty to second-degree murder. That began several hours of legal discussions that were covered by a publication ban for most of the day.

Prospective jurors were told that a "procedural matter" had to be dealt with, and Gregory said they were being sent home with an order to appear Tuesday morning ready to resume jury selection.

Roger Cosman/CBC
Roger Cosman/CBC

Lutz submitted the appropriate paperwork to the court in order for Bennett to re-elect trial by a judge alone. The Crown consented to the application on the condition that Bennett admit that he intentionally caused the child's death.

Once the properly signed copies were submitted, Gregory consented to the re-election, accepted Bennett's guilty plea  and lifted the publication ban on the day's discussions.

The court will now move into the sentencing phase.

Crown prosecutor Chris Ryan said the process should take five days, but to accommodate a witness with an inflexible schedule, the court won't sit for five consecutive days.

It will resume on Wednesday and continue to Friday before taking a break until next Thursday, when a witness is expected to talk about the force needed to lodge a Ping-Pong ball into the airway of a toddler.

Ryan also asked for victim impact statements from several members of the victim's family, including his mother, father and grandmother, while Lutz asked for a pre-sentence report for Bennett.

Sept. 18, 2021 incident

Bennett was originally charged in September 2021 with criminal negligence causing death, but that was later changed to second-degree murder. He is also charged with breach of probation.

Saint John police have said officers responded to a 911 call on Sept. 18, 2021, about an unconscious child at a residence. The child was eventually airlifted to the children's hospital in Halifax but died the next day.

In October 2021, Bennett was found fit to stand trial after a 30-day psychiatric assessment at the Restigouche Hospital Centre. A subsequent assessment at Restigouche determined that Bennett was criminally responsible at the time of the alleged offence.

History of drug use 

Although some portions of the two reports from Restigouche are protected by publication bans, the remaining details reveal a troubled childhood and a history of abusing drugs, including LSD, cocaine, ecstasy, injectable opioids, the stimulant known as bath salts, and Percocet.

The report said Bennett had been to drug rehabilitation five times and attempted suicide four times.

Bennett was assessed by a psychiatrist in December 2020 and diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, panic disorder, agoraphobia and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Not the first time

It's not the first time Bennett has been charged with hurting a child. In fact, he was still on probation for a similar incident when he was charged in 2021.

In 2017, he was charged with attempted murder and aggravated assault of another toddler.

He admitted to physically abusing the girl on at least five separate occasions.

Karrson Bennett/Facebook
Karrson Bennett/Facebook

At the time, the court heard that Bennett suffocated the girl with water, hit her, and held his hand over her face until she turned purple and had to be revived.

On another occasion, he stuffed her into a tiny duffel bag, zipped it up to her neck and threw her in a closet.

Then he went out for a cigarette.

He eventually pleaded guilty to aggravated assault and was sentenced in January 2019 to three years in prison, which was to be followed by 36 months of supervised probation. With credit for time served, the sentence amounted to 18 months.

Probation order allowed contact with children

Under the conditions of his supervised probation, Bennett was ordered to have no contact with the victim's family, abstain from drugs, participate in treatment and counselling, submit a DNA sample and not own weapons for 10 years.

There was no mention of having no contact with children.

There's nothing in the Criminal Code that would automatically impose that condition, but judges have the discretion to prohibit offenders from being in contact with children. Judges can also require offenders to disclose intimate relationships to their parole officers.