Man involved in local murder released from prison

The Newton Correctional Facility has released one of the men involved in local man Benjamin Benda’s murder after the judge who oversaw the case reconsidered the sentence.

Judge James Ellefson, who sentenced Thomas Vaughn, Shawn Doehler and Steven Etzen in September 2012, reconsidered his decision to sentence Vaughn, 29, to 10 years prison, granting an order to have him released Monday.

Vaughn pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit a forcible felony, a Class C felony, for his role in aiding Doehler and Etzen in an attempted robbery that ended in murder in February 2012. The court sentenced him to the maximum penalty for the crime. However, Ellefson overturned his initial sentencing after Vaughn’s attorney, Public Defender Scott Hunter, submitted two requests for reconsideration, instead imposing five years probation.

The state resisted the motion.

“Given the nature of the offense, we just think he should have served the whole sentence,” said County Attorney Jennifer Miller.

Miller said defense attorneys always apply for the reconsideration, but judges rarely grant them.

Ellefson declined a request to elaborate on the reasoning behind his reconsideration.

According to court documents, the terms of Vaughn’s probation require him to live with his mother in Monroe, abide by a curfew requiring him to be in his mother’s home between 6 p.m. and 7 a.m. unless working or attending substance abuse meetings, which the court has mandated. The terms also stipulate that Vaughn must wear a GPS monitor for six months following his release.

During the sentencing, both the judge and county attorney said Vaughn was the least culpable of the three men. Ellefson sentenced Etzen to the state-mandated 50 years in prison for second-degree murder and Doehler to 30 years for first-degree robbery and going armed with intent. Both men pleaded guilty to those charges and remain in prison.

Vaughn’s attorney did not return a call at press time.