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Prosecutors to seek death penalty in JCCC murder

Assistant Attorney General Kevin Zoellner, acting as a special Cole County prosecutor, told the Cole County circuit court Wednesday the state will seek the death penalty for an inmate indicted this week for last July’s killing of another inmate.

The notice to seek the death penalty was filed along with the Cole County grand jury’s first-degree murder indictment of Terry J. Volner, 24, an inmate at the Jefferson City Correctional Center.

Grand jurors charged Volner with killing cellmate Jose Benitez, 67, on July 16 by striking him.

No other details of the July attack were released in the indictment, or in previous reports about the murder and the investigation.

However, in the notice telling the court of prosecutors’ plan to seek the death penalty, Zoellner wrote that Volner committed the July murder “for the purpose of receiving money or any other thing of monetary value from the victim” and the killing “was outrageously or wantonly vile, horrible or inhuman in that it involved torture, or depravity of mind.”

Last summer, Cole County Sheriff’s Chief Deputy John Wheeler told reporters: “This was a physical assault or confrontation. I can’t say if any weapon or weapons were involved. We took everything we could find in the cell into evidence.”

Benitez was serving a 25-year sentence for a first-degree statutory sodomy conviction from Jasper County.

Volner, originally from Hartville, was already serving a life sentence, without parole, after pleading guilty a year ago to the 2011 murder of Dusty Guenther, 4.

Authorities said Volner babysat the boy and slit his throat, then dumped the body in a sewage lagoon.

Media reports in 2011 said authorities found that Volner, then 22, sent a text message to his mother containing a photo of the boy’s body — and Volner’s mother then called 911.

Officials also said Volner had planned to kill the boy’s mother, her three other children and her boyfriend — but none of those other people were harmed.

The attorney general’s office prosecuted that murder case, and the life sentence was imposed through an agreement that included guilty pleas to both first-degree murder and armed criminal action.

At the time of the Guenther murder in 2011, both the new indictment and the death penalty notice said Volner already had been found guilty of, or pleaded guilty to, charges of:

• Knowingly burning or exploding.

• Stealing, two different cases a year apart.

• Second-degree burglary.

• Third-degree assault, a misdemeanor.

• Animal abuse, a misdemeanor.

Volner remains an inmate at the Jefferson City Correctional Center.

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