Anthony Bennett (credit: Isabella County Sheriff's Department)

Anthony Bennett (credit: Isabella County Sheriff’s Department)

DETROIT (WWJ/AP) – A young man accused of killing a 4-year-old boy on a central Michigan Indian reservation pleaded guilty this week to second-degree murder, admitting he delivered a fatal punch to the victim’s head and then burned the body.

Anthony Bennett said he killed his girlfriend’s son, Carnel Chamberlain, in 2012 before burning and burying the remains under a home where the three lived on the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Reservation. The plea came less than a month before his trial was to begin in federal court in Bay City.

“Bennett acted with callous and wanton disregard for Carnel’s life,” according to a 10-page plea agreement signed by prosecutors, Bennett and his attorney.

Bennett, 21, is facing decades in federal prison, but he can withdraw the guilty plea and go to trial if his sentence exceeds 40 years.

“There’s an element of closure in admitting his guilt, but no one’s really pleased to see him pleading down to save his hind end. It feels like it should be life,” said Kevin Chamberlain, a family spokesman and a cousin of Carnel’s mother, Jaimee Chamberlain.

Carnel lived with his mother, Jaimee Chamberlain, and Bennett on the Saginaw Chippewa Indian reservation, about 70 miles north of Lansing. He was last seen alive on June 21, 2012, before his mother went to work and left him with Bennett.

Photo courtesy of Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe

Carnell Chamberlain (Photo Courtesy: Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe)

A week-long search on the reservation ensued until Carnel’s remains were found buried outside his home. Authorities say Carnel’s body was so badly burned that authorities had trouble identifying it as human remains. U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade called it a “horrific crime.”

Jaimee Chamberlain told WWJ Newsradio 950 that she initially became suspicious when Bennett didn’t join her as she frantically searched for the child. She said that it seemed he might be “hiding something.”

Bennett was subsequently charged with an earlier assault on the boy, a key step that kept him in custody while authorities developed the murder case against him. A Nov. 7 grand jury indictment charged Bennett with first-degree murder, assaulting a child, assault with a dangerous weapon, animal cruelty and witness tampering.

Bennett could have faced a life sentence if he had been convicted at trial of first-degree murder.

“The plea ensures the certainty of conviction without putting the family through the pain of reliving the crime. The family was consulted on the terms of the plea agreement,” said Gina Balaya, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Defense attorney John Shea said Bennett took responsibility for a serious crime.

“These are difficult cases. No one celebrates them,” Shea said. “I’m certain the government is not celebrating it, either.”

Bennett returns to court on March 27. The case is being handled in federal court since the crime occurred on an Indian reservation.

TM and © Copyright 2013 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2013 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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