Messages fill in girl's last night

The text messages between a Fort Lewis soldier and his teen girlfriend from Lakewood gushed with the affections of two people about to enjoy a Valentine's Day date.

“I love you. Tonight will be amazing,” read a message from Pvt. Timothy Bennitt.

“Love you too. Should I wear a dress?” read a reply from 16-year-old Leah King.

She eventually left her home wearing a black dress and heels and carrying a black purse, witnesses said.

Several hours later, King’s older sister, Stephanie, sent Bennitt a text message of her own.

“Where the (expletive) is Leah?”

Bennitt, now 20, faces an involuntary manslaughter charge in the Feb. 15 overdose death of Leah King in his Fort Lewis barracks room.

On the second day of his court martial Wednesday, government lawyers produced a list of text messages between Stephanie King’s phone, which Leah King also used, and Bennitt’s phone.

Stephanie King sent the frantic text message to Bennitt early Feb. 15, shortly after the Fort Lewis soldier says he woke up next to Leah’s nearly breathless body. She had froth around her mouth, pale skin and blue lips.

Stephanie King was one of the witnesses who testified Wednesday at Fort Lewis. The government worked to build its case that Bennitt willfully supplied prescription drugs to Leah King and a friend Feb. 14, and that those drugs caused her death.

The two teenage girls overdosed on a combination of the painkiller oxymorphone and the anxiety pill Xanax; the friend recovered.

On Tuesday, Bennitt pleaded guilty to other drug-related charges and had another drug charge dismissed.

Bennitt’s defense team has tried to counter the government by painting a picture of commonplace recreational prescription drug use at Leah King’s Tillicum trailer and at a neighbor’s trailer. A woman and family friend who lived next to the Kings supplied the drugs, according to multiple witnesses. Government lawyers said the woman has since died.

Heather King, Leah’s other older sister, and Michael Johnson, Stephanie King’s boyfriend, also testified Wednesday. They all had seen Leah hours before the Lakes High School student went on a date with Bennitt that included her being sneaked into his North Fort Lewis barracks.

King’s family members all testified that Leah seemed excited, but didn’t appear under the influence of pills, alcohol or any other substance.

Johnson, the deceased woman’s son, said he was passed out early Feb. 15 when his mother’s cell phone rang shortly after 3 a.m. It was Bennitt.

“He said Leah was foaming out of the mouth and that she wasn’t breathing,” Johnson testified.

Shortly afterward, Stephanie King, 24, and Bennitt exchanged text messages. It was unclear whether the texts were sent before rescue crews were called to his barracks. Stephanie King said she asked Bennitt what happened to her sister. What drug was she on?

“I know the Opana (oxymorphone). That’s all,” read the message she got back. “I don’t want to talk right now.”

Bennitt’s defense team questioned King’s family Wednesday about her drug use before Feb. 14, and asked if tests on her body accurately read the drugs in her system.

Bennitt’s lawyers also questioned sworn statements investigators took that could tie him to the drugs that killed King.

The court martial resumes this morning.