Paul Bennett (click for larger version)
November 12, 2013GAINESVILLE, Ga. — Last week, the trial involving a Forsyth County man accused in a deadly boat crash on Lake Lanier in June 2012 began.
Paul J. Bennett, 45, of Cumming, is charged with eight counts of homicide by vessel that killed brothers Jake Prince, 9, and Griffin Prince, 13, both of Buford.
In addition to the homicide by vessel charges, four for each child, Bennett is charged with two counts of boating under the influence and two counts of reckless operation of a vessel. He was also charged with one count of violation of duty to render assistance and identify vessel and self in the June 18, 2012, collision. Bennett's fishing boat struck the front of a pontoon with 13 people on board, killing Jake and Griffin.
The incident occurred in the Shoal Creek area of Lanier.
The trial is taking place in Judge Kathleen Gosselin's courtroom in Hall County Superior Court.
If convicted, each of the homicide by vessel counts carries a three-year minimum and 15-year maximum sentence. Bennett's other charges are misdemeanors that each carry a maximum one-year sentence.
The state offered Bennett a sentence of 30 years' probation with eight years in prison, which his attorney, Barry Zimmerman, of Norcross, declined.
At a Sept. 25 hearing, District Attorney Lee Darragh, the lead prosecutor on the case, said he would not accept a sentence with no time in prison, according to news reports.
The parents were not pleased to have to hold a trial.
"I am also so blessed with amazing friends who bravely honored Griffin and Jake in the courtroom," wrote Tara Prince on the Prince boys' Facebook memorial page. "I am beyond proud of the children who were made to testify."
And in an earlier post, the family wrote: "Paul Bennett, the man who killed our children, was offered a deal by the district attorney. They were hoping to spare our family and our dear friends further pain and suffering. Paul Bennett has rejected the deal and has decided instead to fight all the charges and force us to endure a trial. He still has the option to accept the deal at any time. We are praying that he will. If he won't, we are praying for the strength to make it through what will be a very painful trial."
The deaths of the two brothers spurred state legislation, which lowered the legal alcohol limit for boaters from 0.10 to 0.08, the same as a motor vehicle. That bill was signed into law in April.
The trial is expected to run through this week.