October 28, 2008
Huntsville, Texas
Eric Charles Nenno (47) is executed for the murder and sexual assault of a 7-year-old

On March 23, 1995, Nicole Benton (7) was attending a large gathering in Hockley, Texas in celebration of her father’s birthday. While her father was playing guitar in his country band, Benton disappeared. Another parent noticed her absence from the group of children she had been with, as well as beads on the sidewalk which Benton had been seen playing with shortly before her disappearance.

Nicole Benton, via Chron

A search was launched immediately, and some neighbors suggested Eric Nenno as a possible suspect; two years before, Nenno had grabbed a 6-year-old girl and attempted to remove her pants. Authorities knocked on Nenno’s door late at night on March 23 and twice on the afternoon of March 25 but received no answer. “Obviously,” sheriff’s department Lt. Bert Diaz told reporters, “we could not force our way in because of the law, so we just kept coming back until finally we did get a response.” Nenno answered the door on law enforcement’s third attempt to contact him on March 25. He agreed to meet with detectives for questioning.

Eric Charles Nenno, via Chron

Nenno was asked during his questioning what he believed happened to Benton, Nenno suggested she had been abducted, raped, and murdered. The detectives asked what kind of person Nenno thought would commit such a crime, to which he responded, “Someone like me.”

After five or six hours of interrogation, including two polygraph tests, Nenno confessed to Benton’s murder. In Nenno’s confession, he recounted how he had approached Benton at her father’s birthday party and claimed he wanted to retrieve a guitar from his own home about a block away, stating he wanted to join her father’s band. Benton accompanied Nenno back to his home where he attempted to rape her. Nenno strangled Benton to silence her cries then raped her body at least twice after her death. He further described his sexual fantasies regarding girls, especially those between the ages of 8 and 15. “There is a little remorse, but not much,” Lt. Diaz told reporters. “He was talking more about his fantasies and how he dreamed about doing this type of offense.”

“They’re going to kill me for this, aren’t they?”

Nenno was asked where Benton’s body was and answered, “I think she’s still in the attic.” Nenno also asked detectives, “They’re going to kill me for this, aren’t they?”

Nenno was convicted of capital murder in 1996, and the jurors deliberated for about 11 hours over a two-day timespan before returning with a recommendation for the death penalty.

During Nenno’s appeals, Kenneth Lanning, a Supervisory Special Agent in the Behavioral Science unit of the FBI and who specialized in the study of sexual victimization of children, testified that, as Nenno had previously allegedly attempted to abduct a 6-year-old and had sexually assaulted a 9-year-old, he “would be an extreme threat to society and especially children within his age preference” and difficult to rehabilitate. The court ruled to uphold Nenno’s death sentence.

Nenno said in an interview while on death row, “My salvation is secure. I know where I’m going when this is all over.” When asked where that was, he replied, “Heaven.” Nenno also spoke of Benton’s family and stated, “I can’t apologize enough.”

Nenno was executed by lethal injection on October 28, 2008 at the age of 47. When asked if he wished to make a final statement he replied, “No, warden.”

Sources:
Graczyk, Michael. “State executes killer of 7-year-old girl.” Austin American Statesman. October 29, 2008
“Convicted child murderer executed in Texas.” The Windsor Star. October 29, 2008
Ruiz, Rosanna. “Hockley neighbor executed for killing 7-year-old girl.” Chron. October 28, 2020. Updated: August 8, 2011. Accessed: October 28, 2020. https://www.chron.com/news/houston-texas/article/Hockley-neighbor-executed-for-killing-7-year-old-1772135.php
“Court upholds death sentence.” The Victoria Advocate. June 25, 1998
Nenno v. State. 970 S.W.2d 549 (1998). Eric Charles NENNO, Appellant, v. The STATE of Texas. No. 72313. Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas. June 24, 1998 (archived: https://law.justia.com/cases/texas/court-of-criminal-appeals/1998/72313-4.html)
“Man sentenced to death in rape, murder of girl, 7.” Fort Worth Star-Telegram. February 2, 1996
“Police: Confessed child killer shows little remorse.” The Daily News [Galveston, Texas]. March 28, 1995
Drago, Mike. “Neighbor charged in death of 7-year-old girl.” The Monitor [McAllen, Texas]. March 27, 1995

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