Campbell takes deal, will testify in Higbee Benton murder case

OREGON CITY, Ore. (AP) A woman implicated in a murder plot pleaded guilty Friday to a lesser charge, and she's expected to testify against a former police officer accused of hatching a plan to kill his wife after she had second thoughts about his sex change.

Susan Campbell pleaded guilty to attempted aggravated murder on Friday. She was initially charged with aggravated murder and could have faced the death penalty.

Campbell is expected to testify against Lynn Edward Benton, 50, a former Gladstone police officer who underwent a female-to-male sex change procedure about a year before marrying Deborah Higbee Benton. Authorities say Benton began plotting to kill his wife shortly after the marriage.

"She is cooperating fully. She has an agreement and the state expects her to live up to it, which she will do," Campbell's lawyer Daniel Woram said on Thursday.

Benton has pleaded not guilty and disputes prosecutors' allegations, said his lawyer, Pat Birmingham. He hasn't yet seen the evidence against Benton and wasn't prepared to discuss the case, Birmingham said.

Campbell's son, 32-year-old Jason Jaynes, appeared in court Friday afternoon and pleaded not guilty to attempted aggravated murder and conspiracy charges. His bail was set at $1 million.

His mother will have to testify against him, as well.

A grand jury indictment accuses Benton of plotting for more than a year to have Higbee Benton killed and offering to pay Campbell and Jaynes to do it.

It alleges that Campbell and Jaynes tried to kill Higbee Benton in November 2010 and that Benton tried to kill her the following February.

Higbee Benton was found dead in her beauty salon on May 28, 2011, and an autopsy showed she had been shot, beaten and strangled. The medical examiner described the attack as "kill, kill and overkill."

At Campbell's bail hearing last year, Oregon City police Detective Brad Edwards testified that she confessed to entering the beauty salon and shooting Higbee Benton. Prosecutors said they believe the shot wasn't fatal and that Campbell quickly called Benton, who was working at police headquarters.

Higbee Benton's brother, Tony Stephens, told reporters "it was a big relief" to see Benton arrested. He referred to Benton using the female pronoun and said the family knew only that she'd had her breasts removed.

"We trusted her and feel betrayed by her," Stephens said. "We took her into our family and accepted her for being in love with our sister."

Benton, born Lynne Irene Benton, spent almost 25 years with the Gladstone Police Department before he was fired last year on unrelated matters.

Benton completed the sex change about a year before marrying Higbee Benton in 2010. Prosecutors have said the relationship was rocky and Benton moved out about a month before the killing.

Edwards, the police detective, testified in December that Higbee Benton appeared to have issued an ultimatum for Benton to halt an ongoing gender reassignment, The Oregonian reported at the time. The timing of her demand was not immediately clear.

Edwards said Benton also was worried that a report of domestic violence would end his law-enforcement career.

Benton has been transferred from the Clackamas County Jail to Marion County. Since Benton was a police officer in Clackamas County, jailers fear Benton could be harmed by prisoners who he has arrested.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.

KATU News contributed to this report.