ST., GEORGE'S – A man accused of killing a tourist from Georgia in a machete attack on an isolated beach in Grenada made his first appearance Wednesday before a judge on the Caribbean island to face a charge of capital murder.
Dave Martin Benjamin did not enter a plea and was not given an opportunity to speak in the brief hearing. A lawyer has not yet been appointed to represent him. The 27-year-old could get the death penalty if convicted. Grenada has not carried out an execution since 1978.
Hundreds of people gathered outside the courthouse to get a glimpse of Benjamin as he was led into court in jeans and a checkered shirt.
The suspect surrendered to authorities Monday, a day after the body of Jessica Colker, a 39-year-old physician’s assistant from Atlanta, was found in a wooded area near an isolated beach where she had been walking with her husband.
Benjamin became the chief suspect because people had seen him begging on the beach before the incident, Acting Police Commissioner Winston James said after the court hearing. He did not disclose what other evidence investigators had collected and said that Benjamin had not confessed to the crime.
Police say Benjamin waylaid Colker and Brian Melito around noon on Sunday as they walked along the shore. The husband fled to get help and his wife was missing when he returned. Her body was found later that day in a wooded area. An autopsy found that she died from extensive skull fracture and asphyxia. James said there were signs of sexual assault.
Colker worked as a physician’s assistant at a children’s hospital in metro Atlanta. Van Melito is a physician. The couple, who met at a dance workshop in Costa Rica, married in November 2014, according to an online wedding album.
“Jessica could fill the room with laughter in a second,” Kristin McManus, a friend from her hometown of Yorktown, Virginia, told WAVY-TV. “And her smile just glowed, and she was such a caring person, an open person.”
Police said earlier that Benjamin was convicted of robbery and burglary in 2009 and of a rape in 2013. He was released early from prison in November because of good behavior.
Benjamin’s next scheduled court appearance is Friday.