Christopher Benitez Found Guilty of Negligent Homicide and Arson in '01 Firefighter's Death

Categories: Convicted


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Christopher Benitez was found guilt of negligent homicide and arson today in the 2001 death of firefighter Bret Tarver.
​Christopher Benitez's second chance at trying to prove he wasn't responsible for the 2001 death of a Phoenix firefighter didn't work out well.

The Phoenix man -- a solider sent home Iraq two years ago to face trial in the crime -- was found guilty today of negligent homicide and two counts of arson

Now 27, Benitez was a teenager when he set a fire at a west Phoenix supermarket, accidentally causing the death of firefighter Bret Tarver. Prosecutors maintained the teen set the blaze in retaliation for getting caught stealing beer at the store a few days before.  



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Firefighter Bret Tarver died in a 2001 arson fire set at a west Phoenix supermarket. Christopher Benitez was found guilty today of arson and negligent homicide.
​Last year, an attempt to prosecute Benitez for murder and arson ended in a mistrial. A Channel 3 (KTVK-TV) report from March states that 11 jurors voted not guilty, and the one hold-out believed Benitez didn't start the fire at a supermarket intentionally. That seemed to bode well for Benitez -- but a new group of jurors apparently didn't see things the same way.

A brief article from Channel 10 news (KSAZ-TV) wraps up some of last week's closing arguments.

Benitez is scheduled to be sentenced on June 3. We're not sure what he's gonna get, but in a previous fatal arson story we covered in-depth -- the torching of the Young Champions of America headquarters -- three co-defendants received sentences ranging from four to 14 years in prison.

As with the Young Champions case, Benitez  didn't mean for anyone to die -- but arsonists, almost by definition, are reckless. Benitez, even as a teen, may have understood that his actions could usher in someone's untimely death. (His defense attorney claimed at trial, it must be mentioned, that someone else set the fire.)

Fire officials are meeting with Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery today to discuss the case with reporters.


UPDATE: Here is a news release just put out on this case (4:30 p.m.) by Montgomery's office:


Christopher Benitez Found Guilty of Negligent Homicide, Arson


PHOENIX, AZ (April 25, 2011) - A jury today found Christopher Benitez (DOB 5/5/83) guilty of one count of negligent homicide, one count of arson of an occupied structure and one count of arson of a structure or property in connection with a 2001 structural fire that resulted in the death of Phoenix Firefighter Brett Tarver.  All three charges are classified as dangerous felonies.  The jury reached a verdict after four days of deliberation.


"Today's conviction underscores my office's commitment to the pursuit of justice to hold Christopher Benitez accountable for his criminal conduct," said Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery.  "While we understand that firefighters face many risks in protecting citizens, we cannot tolerate the death of a firefighter that occurs in the context of an intentionally-set fire," he added.


At about 4:30pm on March 14, 2001, the Phoenix Fire Department responded to a debris fire behind Southwest Supermarket, located at 1520 North 35th Avenue.  After successfully battling the fire, firefighters discovered a significant amount of smoke coming from inside the building.  Firefighter Brett Tarver, assigned to Engine 14, entered the building to make sure no one was still inside.  While Tarver and his fellow firefighters were clearing the building, the fire quickly spread.  Tarver was overcome by smoke, heat and the lack of oxygen and subsequently died from smoke inhalation and thermal injuries.


An investigation later determined that the fire was intentionally set and the incident was classified as arson.  In August of 2007, investigators received an anonymous tip through Silent Witness that defendant Christopher Benitez started the fire.  At the time the fire occurred, Benitez lived a few blocks north of the supermarket.  About a week prior to the fire, Benitez was caught by a store manager attempting to steal beer from the store. 


In May, 2009, Benitez was charged with one count of 1st degree felony murder, or in the alternative, 2nd degree murder; one count of arson of an occupied structure, and one count of arson of a structure or property.  A November, 2010 trial resulted in a hung jury.  The jury in the second trial found Benitez guilty on the two arson counts and the lesser included charge of negligent homicide on the 2nd degree murder count.


Benitez is scheduled to be sentenced on June 3, before Judge Glenn M. Davis.

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Ray Goodman
Ray Goodman

i know he did not do it i never meet this kid but i know it was not was a blockwatch guy name tom  i use to blockwatch with him some times he more less told me he did it . his name was tom he past away from cancer like 4 years ago he use to report Southwest Supermarketto the city all the time so i know there are report of him calling the city and he would call the police there to so i know they have report on file to of him calling them he live 2 block's from the store


It wasn't the silent witness that made him look guilty it was his cousin who placed him at the scene of the fire. You can thank Michael for that. If he did do it I don't think he deserves to anymore time then he already has. It was a stupid mistake that resulted in something tragic. If you really believe Christopher did not start the fire I suggest you go out and do something about it! The case can be appealed. It's not over unless you want it to be over.


Its ridiculous!! They had no physical proof that it was Chris.... How can they judge a man so badly..... He did it because he got caught shop lifting beer.. WTF... NOOOO I did it because I bought sour milk from them 2 weeks before the fire and I was angry... UGH, the frickin jurors are idiots.. And I don't understand why if the first time around it was a mis-trial with most of the jurors finding him not guilty, why would they take him to trial again?? That just comes to show you what a fu**ed up system we live in!!


I know him personally, we grew up together, played together, went to the same schools together.. Although this part of Phoenix isn't the greatest ever, not all of us are F*** ups and I highly doubt that it was him.. The fire could have been set by any one, now if Silent Witness would've said it was me, would I be there behind bars intead of him??

X Tunnel Rat
X Tunnel Rat

this guy is more proof to never trust a clean cut short haired male. they commit 99% of male crime. look at any big city police mugshots for more proof. clean cuts as far as the eye can see. they use that clean cut short haired look to hide the evil that lurks deep down in their dark souls.


Pimpin,, As you know this person you and i know he didn't commit this crime.. The silent witness came out a complete drug addict just wanted the reward. The first jury at least listened to what the state had to offer the second set ,, i am speechless. He never ran away from the area lived ther all his life and i agree not the best area but that is home. All i can say he is innocent and will clear his name . Took them 7 years to figure out he did a beer run not very good investigation.. 12 people just changed a innocent man's life ,, how can they sleep at night.. No one seen him do it nor any fingerprints/DNA so how come he is quilty!!!! And the answer to your question,, I believe if they said it was you,, you would be behind bars!!

Gabie Ma
Gabie Ma

You have no idea who he is, I do and I believe him when he says he DID NOT DO IT.

Gabie Ma
Gabie Ma

What can we do to help clear his name?

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