Metro Weekly

Murder Charges Still Possible in Nex Benedict’s Death

Despite previous statements, Owasso police have not ruled out murder as the cause of death of nonbinary 16-year-old Nex Benedict.

Nex Benedict in the hospital, as seen in a police body camera video – Photo: Owasso Police Department

Police in Owasso, Oklahoma, have not ruled out the possibility of murder charges in the death of nonbinary teenager Nex Benedict, despite having previously stated that Benedict’s sudden death on February 8 was not caused by trauma suffered during a fight in the Owasso High School girls’ bathroom.

On February 7, Benedict and a friend were involved in an altercation with three other students, during which Benedict struck their head on the floor. The fight was broken up, with all parties walking under their own power, accompanied by school staff, to both the assistant principal’s and nurse’s offices.

The nurse determined that no ambulance service was required, but advised Benedict’s mother take them to a hospital for further examination. Benedict went to the hospital, but was later released. The following day, they collapsed and had to be rushed to the hospital, where the 16-year-old was declared dead.

Following Benedict’s death, Owasso Police posted a statement to the department’s Facebook page asserting that, based on preliminary information from the state medical examiner’s office, Benedict did not die as a result of trauma.

The official autopsy report, and toxicology results, have not yet been made publicly available.

However, according to an interview that Lt. Nick Boatman, a spokesperson for the Owasso Police Department, gave to the news website Popular Information, the department may have prematurely jumped to conclusions regarding the death. 

While it is not standard practice for the department to release “piecemeal” information regarding the cause of death before the medical examiner issues a report, Boatman admitted that the department had “reached out to the state medical examiner’s office to try to head off some of this national scrutiny,” noting that Owasso High School had received several threats, including at least one that was deemed “credible.”

Boatman told Popular Information that the medical examiner did not explicitly tell him that Benedict “did not die from something as a result of that fight,” but that was how he interpreted the medical examiner’s comments.

Boatman added that the medical examiner emphasized they were waiting for toxicological results, which he interpreted as “kind of a red flag,” saying he is “assuming when I get that [toxicology report] back, something’s going to be there.”

There is no indication at this time that Benedict’s collapse on the day following the fight was drug- or substance-induced. The medical examiner will not determine a cause of death until they receive toxicology results from the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, a process that could take several weeks.

Boatman acknowledged criticism — particularly from pro-LGBTQ groups — that the initial statement from the Owasso Police Department echoed many of the talking points contained in a release from Owasso Public Schools — even copying verbatim large chunks of text from the school department’s release.

He said that the purpose of the police statement was to communicate that police “have confirmed the school did all those things” after collecting written statements from various school officials, including the school nurse and school resource officer.

Boatman acknowledged that the police department’s statement “came across as us being a voice piece for the school.”

Yet despite the department’s initial statement, a February 9 affidavit for a search warrant, filed by an Owasso Police detective, says that police were still investigating Benedict’s death as a “murder.”

Boatman confirmed that, telling Popular Information that murder charges are still “on the table.”

Owasso Police have also been criticized for releasing a video of an interview with Benedict and their mother at the hospital on the day of the altercation. In that video, Benedict said that three girls had attacked them and their friend after Benedict poured water on them for mocking the way they laughed.

Benedict’s mother, Sue, says in that video she wishes to press charges, but the officer tells her that because Nex started the fight by pouring the water on the other girls, they could be sued for assault. 

But even those statements by the officer are being criticized by legal experts as a misrepresentation of the law.

Tulsa attorney Frank Brewster told ABC affiliate KTUL that, under Oklahoma law, it would be a stretch to say another individual can be allegedly physically attacked after throwing liquid on someone.

“An assault in the legal terminology is an act that gives rise to someone believing they’re in imminent threat for injury or death,” Brewster said. “So an assault is very defined in the state of Oklahoma. In this instance, it’s not an assault.”

Similarly, Colleen McCarty, executive director of the Oklahoma Appleseed Center for Law and Justice, said the officer’s claims in the released video aren’t accurate.

“[I]t”s a commonly held misconception about self-defense,” she told KTUL. “When you are defending yourself, the harm or force that you use must be proportional to the harm that’s being caused to you.”

Sue Benedict, Nex’s mother, has already expressed skepticism about the police department’s investigation and public statements. In a text exchange with Popular Information, she said she considered the department’s official statement a “big cover” and believed it was only released as “something to calm the people.”

Lawyers representing the Benedict family previously issued a statement to ABC News indicating that they are pursuing their own independent investigation into Nex’s death. 

“While various investigations are still pending, the facts currently known by the family, some of which have been released to the public, are troubling at best. We urge those tasked with investigating and prosecuting all potentially liable parties to do so fully, fairly and expediently,” the statement said.

“Notwithstanding, the family is independently interviewing witnesses and collecting all available evidence. The Benedict Family calls on all school, local, state and national officials to join forces to determine why this happened, to hold those responsible to account and to ensure it never happens again.”

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