Charity Lee was visiting her teen son in jail when he blurted out the unthinkable: He brutally murdered his 4-year-old sister.
“You’re right. I did kill her,” a pleased Paris Bennett, then 13, proudly declared to his horrified mom in March 2007.
The bone-chilling encounter, and over a dozen more intimate conversations between the two while Bennett was behind bars, are all detailed in Lee’s memoir, “How Now, Butterfly?: A Memoir of Murder, Survival & Transformation” (WildBlue Press), which she co-wrote with the help of writer Brian Whitney, out Tuesday.
The book, which chronicles the Texas mother’s pain, grief and eventual forgiveness through a series of journal entries, also reveals shocking new details about the merciless slaying, including how Bennett watched violent porn for hours before murdering his sister and that he sexually molested her.
“My son is a monster, and because he is a monster, I have lost my daughter,” the 46-year-old Lee wrote in one gut-wrenching journal entry less than a month after the Feb. 4, 2007 killing.
When Lee learned Bennett was browsing graphic porn like “S&M,” “bondage” and “sadism” and even searched for snuff films in the hours leading up to her daughter’s murder, the mom decided to confront her son.
“He said ‘Yes.’ He’d been looking the night he killed Ella, but it was so I would see it and get mad,” Lee writes of the “scene straight out of a horror movie.”
But years later, Bennett switched his story to something even darker: He killed his sister “so she wouldn’t tell on him” about the sexual abuse.
“He sexually abused her that night, and he admitted the more violent he became, the more excited he became, ending in death for her and climax for him,” she wrote in an entry dated September 22, 2010. Authorities also found semen both on Ella and on the bed where she was killed, Lee states.
Lee’s nightmare unfurled early on Feb. 5, 2007, when police stopped by her job at a Buffalo Wild Wings near Abilene.
“[The police] told me that my daughter had been hurt,” Lee previously recalled in the 2017 documentary “The Family I Had.” “And I was saying, ‘You need to take me to Ella now,’ and they were like, ‘You can’t go … she’s dead.’
Bennett and Ella were being watched over by a babysitter when Bennett — who has a “genius” level IQ of 141 — convinced the sitter to go home. He then entered his sister’s room where she was sleeping, tortured and stabbed her 17 times.
“…his stabs were slow and methodical, not frenzied, not an uncontrollable rage,” Lee writes. “Not all were deep. Most were shallow jabs and punctures. He told the detectives he stabbed her and pulled the knife out slowly; that it felt like stabbing a mattress or a marshmallow.”
He then called a friend from school and chatted for six minutes before calling 911. Bennett allegedly pretended to perform CPR, but never actually did.
At first, the disturbed teen claimed he was driven to kill because of a hallucination that made his sister look like a pumpkin-headed demon on fire.
But soon after, Bennett admitted the truth: He had planned the murder and considered murdering his mom too.
“He said the first reason he didn’t go ahead with it was because it was a lot harder to kill someone than he thought,” Lee said previously. “The second reason was the realization if he’d killed me, I only would have suffered for five, 10, 15 minutes. But, if he left me alive [without Ella], I would suffer for the rest of my life.”
‘My son is a monster, and because he is a monster, I have lost my daughter.’
Lee was never in denial that her son might kill her one day. But the realization really sunk in when he attacked her in the visitor’s room in jail.
“He slammed the table into me, pinning me against the concrete wall behind me. He cut off my air. I was in shock, paralyzed. I thought I was going to die there,” she wrote on April 14, 2007. “Then he pulled the table back, I caught my breath, and he slammed it into me again.”
Bennett, who was sentenced to 40 years in prison, continues to try and hurt Lee throughout the book, saying things like, “By the way, I enjoy watching your pain.”
Meanwhile, Lee tried to suss out where his animosity came from, wondering if her brief drug relapse may have had a deeper effect on him that she thought. A former heroin addict, Lee was clean for 12 years, but she slipped into her old ways with cocaine when her son was 12 and Ella was 3.
“Paris was angry with me. He had every right to be. It was a really hard time for us both,” she writes of the six-month period before getting sober again. “So, did my relapse turn Paris into a murderer?”
Murder runs in the family. When Lee was six, her mother was charged with killing her father, but was later acquitted, she explains.
To cope with the crushing sadness of losing both her kids, Lee began to write down her thoughts. She also resorted to heavy drinking and even attempted suicide several times by overdosing on sleeping pills.
But through years of self-reflection, Lee was able to forgive her son and accept him for who he is.
“My son is a psychopath. I can’t help him. That may not matter in the long run. What may matter is I can’t, not at this point, give up on him either,” she writes. “I love my firstborn with as much intensity as I have since the day I found out I was pregnant with him.”
Her deep introspection also helped her to grieve the loss of her “guardian angel” who she lovingly calls “Ella Bella.”
Ever since the tragic incident, Lee associates her daughter with butterflies, since it was the last painting she made in school. A friend also found a butterfly brooch in her backyard on the same day she returned to her home after the murder.
The book ends in 2011, the same year she founded the nonprofit ELLA foundation — which stands for Empathy, Love, Lessons and Action — which helps people affected by violence, mental illness and the criminal justice system.
A year later, she gave birth to a son, Phoenix. “I am happy to report that today Phoenix is a happy, affectionate, intelligent, stubborn and opinionated 6-year-old,” she writes in the epilogue. She is also open and honest about who his brother is and sometimes allows them to speak on the phone.
“Critics of mine like to disparage me for allowing Paris to speak to Phoenix,” she writes. “They tell me what a horrible mother I am for allowing the child who murdered my child to speak to my other child.
To them she has one retort: “I am setting an example for Phoenix. An example of how unconditional love and forgiveness look and behave.”
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