EVERETT — Denise Benzel wept at a Monday morning court hearing as she addressed the man who beat her husband to death.
“Eleven days ago would have been our 43rd wedding anniversary,” she said in Snohomish County Superior Court. “Our family is close, loving, caring. We celebrate important dates in our lives. Now, we have a date that is the worst moment we’ve ever known: the day you brutally murdered the best man, husband, father and friend imaginable.”
The man she addressed, Frank Walton, 42, was sentenced to 18⅓ years in prison, the higher end under state sentencing guidelines. He was convicted of second-degree murder last month for beating to death his landlord, Howard Benzel, of Mukilteo.
On March 28, 2020, Denise Benzel began to worry when her husband didn’t come home from work. She went looking for him at the mixed-use building she and her husband owned in the 2100 block of Madison Street in Everett.
She arrived to find a tenant wiping up her husband’s blood outside the Everett building, she told police.
Passersby discovered Howard Benzel’s remains two days later about a mile north of Lake McMurray in Skagit County. The Snohomish County Medical Examiner’s Office confirmed he died from blunt force trauma. He was 67.
The tenant, Frank Walton, was charged a few weeks later with first-degree murder in Benzel’s death.
More than a dozen of the slain man’s family and friends attended the sentencing hearing. Four of them read statements in the courtroom urging Superior Court Judge Anna Alexander to assign Walton the maximum possible prison sentence.
Breanne Neuman said she attended every day of the murder trial for her father’s killer. She talked about her grief in the courtroom.
“On harder days, I find myself in the darker recesses only found when someone you have loved has been so violently taken from you,” she said. “I think of my dad’s last minutes often. Did he hurt? Did he struggle? Did he fight back? What was the spark that would make someone do what Frank Walton did?”
The victim’s son, Quin Benzel, also read a statement at the hearing. He told the court he had no doubt the defendant was scared, confused and probably in shock at what he had did.
“But to listen to that testimony,” the son said, “and to see those images … the only excuse being that some other guys did it, it’s an insult to who my dad was.”
The Benzels did not plan to renew Walton’s lease. On the day he was killed, Howard Benzel had gone to Walton’s apartment to speak with him. Neighbors reported hearing an argument.
More than 300 people showed up to Howard Benzel’s memorial service, according to his family. An obituary said he will be remembered for his work ethic, stubbornness and love for his “beleaguered” Seattle Mariners.
“From the day he was born until the very end, there was hardly a moment to spare,” family wrote. “He was a dedicated husband, grandfather, and father of two, salesman (a good one), golfer, angler, questionable driver, handyman, jokester, and consummate host to family and friends.”