Marvin Williams, 39, was found not guilty of all charges on Friday. Incarcerated in jail for more than two years while waiting for trial on charges of rape, kidnapping and murder, Williams, on Friday, walked out of the courtroom a free man.
Williams and his attorney, Cosme Ripol, hugged each other after the verdict was read. They both cried.
If convicted of felony murder, Williams would have faced life in prison.
"I just want to go see my family members," Williams said. "Jesus Christ ... has demonstrated his love towards me."
At the time of his arrest, Williams had spent two years living on the streets of Farmington hazy from booze.
Dressed in a suit and tie with his hair neatly tied in a pony tail, Williams looked like a different man Friday. He said he studied the Bible while he was in jail.
"It's the longest I've been sober and I'm going to continue on with that sobriety," he said after the verdict was read.
Williams officially was released from jail Friday afternoon. He plans to find work and spend time with his children.
"I've told him the real trial in his life begins right now," Ripol said.
Benally's large extended family filled one half of the courtroom. They quietly left after the verdict, some wiping away tears.
For two years Benally's family has sat through hours of court hearings for the three men who were arrested and charged with crimes in her death.
Family members have politely denied most interview requests since Benally's death, saying they want the truth to unfold in the courtroom.
"Maybe he didn't do it. Only (God) knows what happened," Felix Valdez, Benally's nephew, said. "Our family is truly based on faith in God ... We left it all in the hands of the man upstairs."
Valdez said although no man was convicted of Benally's murder, the trial allowed for the story of her death to be told.
"We're at peace because at least this case was brought before the public," he said.
Benally was 55 years old when she died. She had two sons, six sisters and two brothers.
On May 22, 2010, she spent the night in a broken down van parked at Marantha Fellowship Church in Farmington. Williams and three other men also spent part of the night in the van with her.
There was excessive drinking.
Benally was raped.
Her neck was injured.
And she died as a result of those injuries May 24, 2010.
Additional facts about what happened inside that van were not proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
"It would be pretty convenient and easy if crimes happened in the lobby of a church. It would be pretty convenient and easy for people if crimes were committed in full HD with sound. That's not where crimes happen," Deputy District Attorney Robert Gentile said during his closing statement. "Crimes happen in the back of churches in disgusting, dirty vans with very intoxicated eyewitnesses."
Chief Deputy District Attorney Dustin O'Brien said it was a difficult case to prosecute.
Unreliable witnesses, a lack of physical evidence connecting the accused to Benally's rape and death and a harsh interview between Williams and police all added to the jury's doubt, he said.
"We don't take cases to trial when we don't believe the defendants are guilty," O'Brien said. "But I think the jury had a very hard job to do in this case. I don't think it's surprising based on the evidence that they came to the verdict they came to."
Over the course of Williams' four-day trial, the other men who were in the van when Benally was attacked gave confusing and unclear testimony about what happened that night.
All the eyewitnesses have long criminal histories and have spent years on the streets.
The jury watched a taped recording of Farmington police detectives interrogating Williams.
On the tape Williams admitted to having sex with Benally, and that she hit her head in the van. But he appears confused throughout the conversation and tried to take back his statements.
The police detectives appear to bully him at times.
"I think that interview could have been conducted in a far better way," O'Brien said. "The way (police) got the statement out of (Williams) sounds bad to anybody looking at it."
The two other men who played a role in Benally's death, Elmer Billy, 47, and Herman Tsosie, 35, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit kidnapping and rape and are serving eight and nine years sentences, respectively, in New Mexico prisons.
Prosecutors offered Williams a deal where he would have served no more than 12 years in prison if he pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, O'Brien said.
"Marvin Williams rejected that offer because he never raped her, he never kidnapped her, and he never murdered her," Ripol said. "Jury verdicts are always evidence and fact generated and never attorney generated. The state had a very poor case."