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Attorney for ex-Fosston resident tries to uncover past as murder trial nears

Trial is still months, possibly years away for a man who grew up in Fosston and is suspected of serial rape and murder in Arizona.

Trent Benson was 3 when he was adopted by a prominent and well-liked Fosston couple, and his attorney wants to learn more about his early years in Korea, the Tribune of Scottsdale, Ariz., reported this week.

Much of Benson's early childhood is unknown, attorney Lynn Burns wrote in a defense motion seeking more time to prepare a case for leniency in case Benson is convicted and a jury declares him eligible for the death penalty.

Prosecutors have said they intend to seek the death penalty, but court documents indicate that neither they nor defense attorneys are anywhere near ready for a death-penalty trial, the newspaper reported.

Benson, now 37, was arrested on May 15 last year and charged with 10 counts of first-degree murder, kidnapping and sexual assault.

He is accused of killing Alisa Marie Beck, 21, in November 2004 and Karen Jane Campbell, 44, in October 2007.

Beck's partially clothed body was found in an alley less than a mile from Benson's home in Mesa, Ariz. He told investigators that he picked her up after leaving a strip club, became angry as they were having sex, hit her head on his car's steering wheel and choked her until she lost consciousness, according to court documents unsealed last June.

Campbell's nude body was found dumped in the middle of a street. Benson admitted having had sex with her, too, but he stopped short of admitting he killed her, the documents show.

Mesa police linked the two cases in December 2007 through DNA evidence obtained from the victims and from a cigarette that Benson discarded while police shadowed him outside his Mesa business, a shop in a strip mall where he sold ice cream, candy, water and ice.

In May 2008, police said they had linked another Mesa rape and a 2007 rape in Phoenix to the two murders.

Benson ran track, captained the swim team and sang in the choir at Fosston High School, graduating in 1990. He attended Minnesota State University, Moorhead, and a community college in Bloomington, Minn., before moving to Mesa in the mid-1990s. He was married but separated and had custody of a 7-year-old son.

News of his arrest stunned friends and former classmates and others in Fosston, who described "an average kid who came from a tremendous family and upbringing," in the words of a former coach.

But based on what thin records attorneys have found, "there are strong indications of neglect, abuse, homelessness, malnutrition and poor prenatal care" before Benson was adopted, according to the defense motion seeking more time before trial.

The state has not objected to Burns' request, the Tribune reported. A judge is considering the motion.