Man Charged in 2015 Murder of Mother of 2 Sentenced to 15 Yrs After Accepting Plea Deal

YORK COUNTY, S.C. (CN2 NEWS) A family is shocked by a court’s decision surrounding the death of a mother of two.

Officials say Jessica Pitman Stewart died in 2015 after officials say she was stabbed to death and found at a home in Clover.

The man charged with her death, Steven Tyler Benfield – sentenced today to 15 years behind bars after accepting a plea deal of voluntary manslaughter.

At the time of the killing Benfield was charged with murder.

Today Jessica’s family flooded the courtroom at the Moss Justice Center in York County, pleading to the judge for a jury trial, saying Benfield brutally killed Jessica and they believe he is a danger to the community.

“Justice wasn’t served today, but you know God has the final say”, says Emily Pitman.

Steven Tyler Benfield walked into the courtroom in handcuffs.

He’s been behind bars since August 2015 after officials say he was charged in the murder Stewart.

Emily Pitman, Stewart’s sister-in-law says Benfield lured Stewart to a home in the Clover area through texts, pretending to be Emily’s aunt, who was in a relationship with Benfield previously.

Emily says when Stewart didn’t return home the next day. they went to look for her, what they found still haunts Emily.

Stewart’s body was found in the backyard of a home on West Highway 55 in Clover.

The family says they were awaiting Benfield’s trial for murder this week but instead Benfield entered an Alford Plea Deal of Voluntary Manslaughter.

He was sentenced to 15 years and the time he has served will be credited towards his sentence according to the 16th Solicitor’s Office.

Stewart’s family pleading in court today to the judge saying the sentence isn’t long enough.

“That’s not justice and that doesn’t do our community justice. That could happen to anybody. Jessica was a loving, caring person. She loved her daughters, she loved her family, there’s nothing she wouldn’t do for anybody”, says Jessica’s brother, Andrew Pitman.

The 16th circuit solicitor’s office says several considerations went into its office agreeing to Steven Benfield’s 15 year offer.

Benfield’s attorney in court today was his third attorney since 20-15. Two key witnesses and an DNA expert in this case passed away over the last couple of years, and then COVID delayed one of the attempts to go to trial.

Given those factors, the solicitor’s office says they consulted with the York County Sheriff’s Office and agreed that the 15 years was appropriate considering the issues with the case.

The Solicitors office did apologized to Jessica Pitman’s family for the additional pain caused by not notifying them of the plea offer. Below is the official statement from the Solicitor’s office.

“As stated in court during Mr. Benfield’s plea hearing this morning, several considerations went into the Solicitor’s Office agreement to make and honor the 15 year offer.
Mr. Hayes was Mr. Benfield’s third attorney. The first was relieved in June of 2016. Mr. Benfield requested a significant amount of additional DNA testing which occurred in 2017 and 2018. Mr. Benfield was scheduled to go to trial with his second attorney in March of 2019, and that was postponed because the Defendant’s DNA expert died. The case was set again for trial in June of 2020, but court shut down in March of 2020 and the trial could not be held then. The second attorney was then relieved from the case and Mr. Hayes was appointed in September of 2020.
During the pendency of the case, two Sheriff’s deputies who would be key State’s witnesses passed away. We also anticipated the defense would introduce evidence of the presence of other individuals at Mr. Benfield’s home on the morning of the murder. Both of those factors weighed into the State’s offer, along with the general concerns raised by presenting evidence collected during an investigation from over six years ago. The offer was made in consultation with the Sheriff’s Office and there was an agreement with law enforcement that 15 years was appropriate considering the issues with the case. We know the Victim’s family members are disappointed with the plea agreement, but we believe the offer was within an acceptable sentencing range considering the facts and circumstances.
Two of the prior prosecutors on this case retired while it was pending. The offer was conveyed by a prior prosecutor and our office continued to honor the offer after that prosecutor left. The offer was rescinded two weeks ago, but Mr. Benfield was never told that the offer was rescinded. Considering the post-conviction appeal issues that revoking the offer would create, we believed we were obligated to honor the offer that was made. We apologize to the Victim’s family for the additional pain caused by our not notifying them of the plea offer.”

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