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Benson sentenced in hitchhiking abduction

Steubenville woman receives 7.5 years for her role in events

T-L Photo/ROBERT A. DEFRANK Tia Benson is sentenced to seven and half years in prison Monday for her role in holding the driver and occupant of a car at gunpoint when the teens picked up Benson and her co-defendant while they were hitchhiking.

ST. CLAIRSVILLE — Tia Benson will spend seven and a half years in prison for her role in the kidnapping and robbery of two juveniles at gunpoint.

The incident occurred when when the teen driver and her passenger picked up Benson and her co-defendant while they were hitchhiking along Ohio 7 last November.

Benson, 29, of 1120 Lincoln Ave., Steubenville, pleaded guilty about two weeks ago. Her co-defendant, Jayden T. Baker, 19, of Indianapolis, Indiana, pleaded guilty and was sentenced in January to 10 years in prison for robbery and kidnapping.

Baker and Benson were hitchhiking Nov. 4 and were picked up by two teenage girls from Dillonvale. The juveniles drove the hitchhikers to Martins Ferry, where Baker produced a gun and threatened the driver and passenger. Police say the girls were locked in the trunk of the car while Baker and Benson drove around briefly, then abandoned the car. The hitchhikers were arrested later that day and the gun was recovered.

Benson’s role in the crime has been debated in Belmont County Northern Division Court. The teen victims testified about the incident prior to Benson’s arraignment at the common pleas level. She had undergone two competency evaluations and was ruled competent.

On Monday, Belmont County Common Pleas Judge Frank Fregiato imposed the maximum sentence of three years on each of two counts of complicity to abduction, a felony of the third degree, and one and a half years for complicity to automobile theft, a felony of the fourth degree. Benson’s sentences will run consecutively.

Her attorney, Aaron Miller, said Benson was remorseful.

“She’s accepted responsibility for her conduct in this situation that certainly should have never occurred. She understands the seriousness of her actions in this particular event,” he said. “She is more than prepared to accept her sentence that the court deems proper and just under the circumstances. She realizes the victims were just two young girls trying to help them and that situation was taken advantage of.”

Fregiato discussed the seriousness of the case.

“The victims in this matter were juveniles, ages 17 and 14. They were kidnapped and forced into the trunk of their car at gunpoint. The male grabbed her neck and put a gun to her head,” Fregiato said. “This is an extraordinarily serious and extraordinarily scary matter. We are lucky we do not have murder charges we are dealing with here. … This conduct and danger was extremely serious for the public.”

The prosecution was pleased with the sentencing.

“The maximum sentence imposed by Judge Fregiato was very appropriate and deserved in this matter,” Belmont County Prosecutor Dan Fry said, adding that his office worked closely with the investigators from Martins Ferry Police Department and the victims. He said the juveniles were acting as good Samaritans when they gave a ride to the hitchhikers.

“This will stick with these youngsters for the rest of their lives,” Fry said. “The sentences imposed by Judge Fregiato for this defendant and (by Common Pleas Judge Judge John Vavra) on her co-defendant several months ago were stiff but needed to be.”

Fry said the investigation revealed Baker was the primary perpetrator, but Benson’s sentence was in line with her level of involvement.

“She fully participated. She assisted the primary person involved, so a lengthy prison sentence was necessary for her as well,” Fry said.

He commended the victims for testifying and the members of the Martins Ferry Police Department for their quick response time.

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