The man accused of killing a 37-year-old Frederick woman in 2020 was allegedly seen on surveillance footage drinking with the victim near the crime scene days before her body was found and a few hours before a witness said they heard a woman scream, according to police.
Frederick police found Kelly Nicole Serra dead in a wooded area in the unit block of Waverley Drive on July 29, behind Ollie’s Bargain Outlet on the Golden Mile. On April 13, authorities arrested Santos Margarito Turcios Benitez, 45, in New York and charged him with first-degree murder of Serra, FPD said last week.
The Frederick County Sheriff’s Office said Tuesday Benitez was found to be living in the country illegally.
Serra suffered multiple stab wounds, and a bloody pocketknife was found at the crime scene, according to charging documents. Surveillance footage appeared to show Benitez and the victim drinking beverages together behind Ollie’s around 11 p.m. July 25, 2020, police allege. They disappeared from the camera’s view when they walked toward the wooded area, where Serra was found dead on July 29, charging documents read. Surveillance footage did not capture either of them leaving the area, police wrote.
Det. K. Wolfe reportedly found a witness in the area who claimed to hear a woman screaming, “No, no, stop, stop,” between 1 and 2 a.m. July 26 in the unit block of Waverley Drive, hours after Benitez and Serra were seen on camera together in the area. Another witness told police they heard an “indescribable” noise in the area around 1 a.m.
Authorities reportedly found clothing at the crime scene that looked like what Benitez wore. A fingerprint lifted from a plastic bag found about three feet from the body came back as a match for Benitez, charging documents allege.
Police believe Serra was dead for some time before an officer on foot patrol found her. A witness told police Serra was homeless and living in the woods in the area, charging documents state.
Through witness interviews and examining evidence, police obtained Benitez’s name and personal information, charging documents state. Phone records indicate Benitez’s phone was in the area at the time of the killing, then he traveled to Baltimore July 28 and arrived in Hempstead, New York, July 29, charging documents read.
Benitez was extradited from New York to Frederick County Adult Detention Center on Monday, the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office said in a news release.
Benitez appeared virtually in Frederick County District Court Tuesday afternoon and waived his right to a bail review hearing. He will continue to be held without bail. His public defender did not immediately have a comment to offer Tuesday afternoon.
As part of the inmate intake process, officers certified and trained in the 287(g) criminal program screened Benitez and found he was in the U.S. illegally, according to the sheriff’s office. The 287(g) program allows Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials to train sheriff’s deputies to ask about the immigration status of anyone booked into the county’s adult detention center and begin deportation proceedings if necessary.
Benitez must answer to the murder charge locally before ICE can serve him immigration paperwork and begin deportation proceedings, the sheriff’s office said.
“This is exactly how the 287(g) process was meant to work and if he is found guilty of that murder and serves his time, this individual will be deported back to his home country and out of the United States,” Sheriff Chuck Jenkins (R) said in a prepared statement.
Jenkins said Benitez was the 21st person the detention center has encountered through the 287(g) program that was charged with murder or attempted murder.
FPD previously said the area behind the Frederick Towne Mall, from the rear of Ollie’s to the side of The Home Depot parking lot, has a history of loitering, drug and alcohol abuse. Officers familiar with the homeless population said they knew Serra to frequent that location, charging documents state.
Surveillance footage allegedly showed Benitez walking through the rear parking lot of Frederick Towne Mall earlier in the day July 25, then in the area of Elmwood Terrace around 5 p.m.
He has a preliminary hearing scheduled for May 19 in Frederick County District Court, online court records show.