Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal
An Uber driver who shot and killed a passenger on St. Patrick's Day – after an argument over vomit and a cleanup fee – has been charged with second-degree murder.
The District Attorney's Office filed the criminal information charging Clayton Benedict, 32, in 2nd Judicial District Court on Monday. It includes an alternative count of manslaughter and enhancement for the use of a firearm.
According to an autopsy report, Benedict's passenger, 27-year-old James Porter, had been shot five times in the back. He died at the scene.
“That on or about the 17th of March 2019, in Bernalillo County, New Mexico, the above-named defendant did kill James Porter and the defendant knew that his actions created a strong probability of death or great bodily harm,” the criminal complaint says.
A preliminary hearing, at which a judge will determine whether there is probable cause to support the charges, has been scheduled for July 25.
Benedict is not in custody.
Benedict – who had been driving for Uber for a year and a half – declined to comment to the Journal and said he did not have an attorney yet. He is no longer a driver with the company, according to an Uber spokesman.
According to a search warrant affidavit filed in state District Court in May, Benedict picked up Porter and his friend at the Salt Yard bar on Osuna near San Mateo NE on the evening of March 17.
Porter's friend threw up in the back seat, sparking an argument between Porter and Benedict about the “cleanup fee.”
According to the affidavit, Benedict then pulled over on the side of southbound Interstate 25 just south of the Montaño exit. Benedict told police Porter got out of the car and slammed the door, and Benedict told him not to do that.
Benedict told police Porter was continuing to yell at him so he also got out of the car. He said Porter walked around the car, started to yell at him, flipped off his shoes and threw his hat and sunglasses down.
At that point, Benedict said, he pulled his gun from the holster and told Porter to back up, according to the affidavit. He said Porter began running toward traffic and then threatened to run him over with his own car.
Porter “reached towards the vehicle and begins to get into the vehicle,” a detective wrote in the affidavit.
That's when, Benedict said, he shot Porter an “unknown amount of times.”
Six casings were found at the scene.
The autopsy report – which says Porter was shot through the opened driver's-side window – found a total of five gunshot wounds in his back, with a downward trajectory from left to right. Only one was considered not lethal.
Numerous people who had been driving by had called 911.
Benedict and Porter's friend were still at the scene when police arrived, and both were taken to the Albuquerque Police Department headquarters to be interviewed. Benedict was released from police custody after his interview, and detectives continued to investigate.
In early April, a representative of Porter's estate filed a civil lawsuit against Uber and Benedict, alleging the company was negligent in the hiring, retaining and supervising of the driver. That lawsuit is pending.