Former police sergeant arrested in wife's murder case

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) A fired police officer has been charged in the alleged murder-for-hire death of his wife, whom he married after undergoing a female-to-male sex-change operation.

Oregon City police said Wednesday that 50-year-old Lynn Edward Benton has been charged with aggravated murder and conspiracy to commit murder.

Benton, a former police officer in the Portland suburb Gladstone, has been a suspect since shortly after his beautician wife, Deborah Higbee Benton, was found dead in her beauty salon on May 28, 2011. An autopsy showed she was shot, beaten and strangled.

"Well I think that kind of puts it to bed, because I think we knew something else had to be going on," said Higbee Benton's friend Bob Dominic.

Police arrested Susan E. Campbell, 54, just days after the death and she has remained in jail without bail. Investigators say Benton agreed to pay Campbell $2,000 to commit the crime.

Campbell, who was scheduled to go on trial next year, has a plea hearing scheduled for Friday. Her attorney, Daniel Woram, said his client is cooperating with prosecutors.

At Campbell's bail hearing last year, Oregon City police Detective Brad Edwards testified that she confessed to entering the beauty salon and shooting Higbee Benton. Prosecutors said they believe the shot wasn't fatal and that Campbell quickly called Benton, who was working at police headquarters.

An autopsy found that Higbee Benton suffered a dozen broken ribs, a lacerated liver and evidence of strangulation, including a fractured thorax. The medical examiner described the attack as "kill, kill and overkill."

Detectives interviewed Benton last year, but he was not arrested until Wednesday in Portland. Benton was transferred to the Clackamas County Jail in Oregon City later Wednesday.

Benton's attorney, Pat Birmingham, was at a trial Wednesday and not available to comment.

Benton, born Lynne Irene Benton, spent almost 25 years with the Gladstone Police Department, including a stint as the police spokeswoman, before she was fired last year on unrelated matters.

Police Chief Jim Pryde said Benton viewed pornographic material on a work computer and fraudulently married a Brazilian immigrant in 1993 so the man could obtain U.S. citizenship.

"We're mostly happy for Debbie Higbee's family and friends that this case has moved forward," Pryde said.

Benton completed the sex change about a year before marrying Higbee Benton in 2010. Prosecutors have said the relationship was rocky and Benton moved out a month before the killing.

KATU's Thom Jensen contributed to this story.