Tia Benson, 29, of Steubenville, is accused of complicity to kidnapping, aggravated robbery and theft of a motor vehicle. Assistant Public Defender Tom Ryncarz requested the evaluation, which Common Pleas Judge Frank Fregiato approved Monday.
According to law enforcement and the Belmont County Prosecutor’s Office, Benson and Jayden T. Baker, 19, were hitchhiking Nov. 4 along Ohio 7 and were picked up by two teenage girls from Dillonvale, who drove them to Martins Ferry. There, Baker allegedly revealed he had a gun and reportedly threatened the driver and passenger, who were then locked in the trunk while Baker and Benson drove around briefly, then abandoned the car. The hitchhikers were arrested later that day. The gun believed to be the weapon used by Baker was also recovered.
The question of Benson’s degree of involvement was argued during a prior hearing at the county court level, with the teens testifying about the events.
Fregiato set a status hearing in about six weeks, although the hearing may be rescheduled for an earlier date depending on the results.
Fregiato also ruled that the vehicle belonging to a relative of one of the victims, and the contents of the vehicle, could be released to the owners.
“The vehicle has been photographed for evidentiary value and evidentiary purposes, so therefore there is no further need to hold the vehicle,” Belmont County Chief Assistant Prosecutor Kevin Flanagan said.
Ryncarz said the defense was satisfied that the photographic evidence is sufficient.
Benson remains in jail in lieu of a bond of $100,000. Baker, of Indianapolis, Indiana, previously pleaded guilty to robbery and abduction. His sentencing was set for Jan. 7.