Editor’s Note: The following story covers topics that involve sexual assault and rape. Reader discretion is advised.
JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) — Authorities arrested convicted violent sex offender Christopher Wayne Bennett after he reportedly carjacked a mother’s vehicle Tuesday afternoon on West Market Street, forced her to drive to an abandoned house in east Washington County, raped her and then abandoned her and her 1-year-old child.
The victim was able to go to a nearby house and call 911 after Bennett left the scene, according to police.
Bennett, 48, had a preliminary hearing Wednesday afternoon on charges of especially aggravated kidnapping, aggravated rape, carjacking, robbery and violation of the sex offender registry law. Bennett had previously served 10 years in jail and prison for a June 2010 rape that also occurred in Johnson City.
An affidavit filed by Johnson City Police Department (JCPD) Detective Justin Jenkins Tuesday states that Bennett made a full confession to the rape and carjacking incident following his arrest. It also reveals he had committed sexual battery in 2003 and that he was currently out of compliance with requirements to report in Nashville due to his being on the Tennessee Sex Offender Registry.
“I have received nothing from the board that he complied with any of those [requirements],” District Attorney Steve Finney said Wednesday during Bennett’s arraignment, where he successfully argued for Judge Jonathan Minga to increase Bennett’s bond amount.
“This case has great prosecution for conviction; he is a danger to the community by his history,” Finney said. “We would ask you to hold him on half a million dollar bond,” Finney said.
Minga increased Bennett’s bond to $250,000 and set a preliminary hearing for Oct. 6.
Tuesday’s events came just weeks after police obtained warrants for Bennett’s arrest on burglary and car theft charges stemming from separate incidents on Aug. 10 and Aug. 19. Bennett, who was in violation of his community supervision requirements due to his sex offender status, was not arrested on either of those charges prior to Tuesday, though a warrant had been issued for his arrest on Aug. 18.
Reported kidnapping near busy Johnson City intersection in the middle of the afternoon
Police attribute his Sept. 27 arrest to surveillance footage from area businesses, according to a JCPD news release. A joint investigation by the JCPD and Washington County Sheriff’s Office (WCSO) determined that Bennett entered the woman’s vehicle as she was at an ATM near the West Market and West State of Franklin intersection at 3:20 p.m. Tuesday.
“They were really quick in providing us access to video,” JCPD Detective Don Shepard told News Channel 11 Wednesday afternoon.
Bennett allegedly threatened the woman by telling her he had a knife and ordered her to drive him to an abandoned home on Woodlyn Road. According to Jenkins’s affidavit, the woman took her child with her into the abandoned house, where Bennett reportedly raped her before taking her cell phone and leaving in her van.
The woman called the police from a nearby location on Woodlyn Road. The affidavit states that authorities learned a man matching Bennett’s description had been seen at the Roadrunner Market at 1702 W. Market St., “where he purchased alcohol.”
From this information, investigators developed Bennett as a suspect and later located the victim’s stolen van “at an address associated with Mr. Bennett.”
Shepard said the quick response by the bank and convenience store may have been the difference between police apprehending Bennett or his getting away.
“We’re fortunate that the vehicle was observed when it was and that he was in the vehicle,” Shepard said. “Had it been 10 minutes later, he could have been out of town; had it been 10 hours later, he could have been in another state.”
In fact, Shepard said, “when we talked to him last night he indicated he was leaving town, so we’re very fortunate.”
Bennett linked to August vehicle thefts but never picked up
Bennett’s recent reported criminal activities in the area date to at least Aug. 10. That’s when his cousin told Johnson City police that Bennett had stolen her car after she had let Bennett and a female friend of hers use her car to get groceries.
The pair had then stopped at a store on South Broadway to pick up cigarettes, the woman had gone in, and Bennett had driven off in the car when she returned. An affidavit and arrest warrant signed Aug. 18 states that police recovered the vehicle on Aug. 12 at 1701 Dave Buck Road after “an unknown female” revealed where to find it.
Shepard said JCPD had tried to apprehend Bennett prior to Tuesday’s incident but didn’t offer details on how many times police specifically sought him.
“We search for everyone we have a warrant on no matter what the warrant’s for or what the charges are,” Shepard said. “We do our very best.”
The day after the Aug. 18 warrant was issued, the owner of AutoKeen — a car business also on South Broadway — reported a break-in and theft of a 2006 Subaru Baja. Officers recovered the car at a Food City on Aug. 23 and also found surveillance video showing a man driving it.
An affidavit related to that case states that police learned Bennett had been “flagged” by Food City for cashing too many checks within a short period of time.
“A clerk wrote down the suspect’s information after writing several checks and he was identified as (Bennett),” an additional affidavit states.
Asked whether JCPD had been aware of Bennett’s absconding from his supervision in Nashville, where TDOC said his last known address was, Shepard said the department wasn’t at liberty to answer.
“We all need to try to communicate better, first of all, but there’s just no way you can know somebody’s complete history until you have them,” he said. “You can identify them whether it’s through fingerprints or DNA and connect them to other crimes, so a lot of these things, we just get fortunate when the time is right.”
Previous rape in Johnson City
Court records obtained Wednesday show Bennett was arrested in 2010 after a woman reported that a stranger had followed her into her Johnson City apartment, grabbed her and raped her after pulling a knife on her.
That incident occurred June 11, 2010, and Johnson City police brought Bennett in for an interview after finding a man matching the victim’s provided description. He refused to talk beyond telling police he’d never been to the victim’s apartment and didn’t know who she was, but he did consent to a DNA sample via a mouth swab.
Bennett’s DNA matched the victim’s rape kit, and he was arrested and charged with aggravated rape, aggravated kidnapping and aggravated burglary. The non-rape charges were dropped, but Bennett pleaded guilty to rape.
TDOC officials told News Channel 11 that Bennett, whose sentence was imposed in April 2014 for the 2010 rape, had been incarcerated at the Washington County Detention Center before transferring to TDOC and serving the majority of his sentence at the Northeast Correctional Complex, from which he was released on May 6, 2021.
Bennett will be on community supervision for life. However, prior to his most recent arrests, his whereabouts had been unknown to law enforcement, as he allegedly began to skip his supervision duties beginning in February 2022.
The registry also lists that Bennett lived in Nashville and experienced homelessness during an unspecified time. His last known address, according to TDOC, was in Old Hickory, Tennessee.
Bennett currently faces the following charges: especially aggravated kidnapping, aggravated rape, robbery, burglary, three counts of theft of property over $2,500 and violating the sex offender registry. He was originally jailed at the Washington County Detention Center on a $121,500 bond.