Charging documents filed Thursday have provided more details into a homicide investigation sparked by a trespassing suspect’s words.
“I killed him,” Nancy Leann Wright, 47, told police, according to the court documents. “I murdered him. … I was told to do it."
Wright allegedly stabbed her neighbor, Phillip Benjamin, 42, in the chest with a knife while he was sleeping at his home in the Parkside Village apartments on Stephens Avenue South near Higgins earlier this month. When law enforcement arrived at the apartment after a report of an unattended death, they found blood on Benjamin’s chest, and pooling around his nose and forehead. They also found a knife near his legs.
Wright's bail was set at $2 million Thursday at her initial court appearance in Missoula County Justice Court.
Police responded to the Parkside Village apartments on Nov. 3 after an employee of North West Home Care had entered Benjamin’s apartment for a check-in. They employee found Benjamin sitting on the floor near the side of the bed, his body still and cold to the touch, according to the court documents filed Thursday.
There were no signs of forced entry or a struggle inside the apartment, a Missoula police officer noted. The caregiver had also taken note of a cigarette that had burned out on the bookshelf near the front door, and told police it wasn’t like Benjamin to leave a cigarette lit in the apartment that way.
The caregiver from North West Home Care had been meeting with Benjamin twice a day for the past five years. He said Benjamin had epilepsy, as well as a traumatic brain injury. He had been employed through Opportunity Resources, performing janitorial services until his hours had been cut significantly months earlier. The caregiver had been at Benjamin’s apartment the night before he was found dead.
A review of the data from Benjamin’s sleep apnea machine showed he had stopped breathing at approximately 3:50 a.m. on Nov. 3. After reviewing the data on Nov. 11 with a "semi-retired sleep study doctor," law enforcement determined this was now a homicide investigation, according to court documents.
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Neighbors described to police past altercations Wright had with Benjamin, saying she “hated” him, according to the affidavit. Benjamin's family also told law enforcement that he had talked about struggles with a woman in the complex over the past two or three months.
Wright was arrested on Tuesday after being accused of breaking into another neighbor’s apartment in the same complex. When asked if she had broken into Benjamin’s apartment, she said she had — and added that she had killed him, according to charging documents.
The reported confession came after Wright said she had been very tired in recent days and that she had "been having some major issues."
Wright said her neighbors had been harassing her and calling her names. While she complained of Benjamin harassing her and trying to look in her apartment, others in the complex said she had been the aggressor in this and several other instances. They also said Benjamin's apartment was on the other side of the building, so it was unlikely he was snooping on her apartment.
While there is no specific mention of mental health issues in Thursday's charging documents, prosecutors wrote Wright had repeatedly said she was "told" to kill Benjamin, and could provide no other motive.
"I was told to do it," she said, according to charging documents. "I stabbed him and left. … I didn't stay."
A search of Wright's apartment on Thursday turned up "dozens" of knives, including one knife that appeared to match the suspected murder weapon, according to the documents.
During her initial appearance by video Thursday afternoon, Wright appeared consumed by the charging documents, poring over them as Missoula County Justice of the Peace Alex Beal told her her rights. She eventually turned her head away from the camera beaming her image into the courtroom as the hearing went on.