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Man guilty of killing his family for inheritance

Shooting Deaths
Shawn Bentler, seen in court on May 11, faces life in prison. John Gaines / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

An unemployed young man was found guilty on Thursday of killing his parents and three teenage sisters in what prosecutors said was a plot to get an inheritance.

Shawn Bentler, 23, was shaking in the courtroom, with his lower lip quivering at times, but stood calmly to hear Judge Michael Mullins announce the verdict to more than 100 family members and others. Many cried while others sighed in what appeared to be relief.

"I continue to assert my innocence and I believe that the circumstantial evidence against me was very weak," Bentler said in a statement handed out by his lawyers.

Michael and Sandra Bentler, and their daughters Sheena, 17, Shelby, 15, and Shayne, 14, were shot to death with a .22 caliber rifle on Oct. 14 at their southeastern Iowa home.

Prosecutors said Bentler, the father of two, wanted to inherit money from the family's successful grain elevator and lumberyard businesses.

Chilling 911 call
Prosecutors focused on a 911 call made from the Bentler home the night of the slayings. The call begins with Sandra Bentler shouting in the background, then Shayne saying her older brother was "going to do something," followed by the sound of a gunshot and a scream "Shawn, no!" before the line goes dead.

"A mother and sister would almost certainly not mistake their son and brother as the murderer," the judge said.

Defense lawyers tried to show that Bentler got along with his family, and that he could not have traveled the 60 miles from his home in Quincy, Ill., to the family's home in Bonaparte and back in enough time to kill them.

Bentler took the stand during the trial earlier this month, repeatedly denying that he killed his family. He reminisced about holding each of his sisters at their births, described a bond with his mother and spoke proudly of his father.

Sentencing was scheduled for June 19. Bentler faces mandatory life sentences, which could run concurrently.