BENNETT

Editor's note: This article was last updated July 28 at 2:23 p.m.

NEWPORT — A Wednesday autopsy confirmed the body discovered by the Carteret County Sheriff’s Office this week is that of missing Newport woman Kristen Ashley Bennett, 24, who died of a gunshot wound to the head.

Deputies oversaw the autopsy, performed at Vidant Health in Greenville, according to a press release issued Thursday morning. Investigators positively identified Ms. Bennett by comparing dental records.

“The manner of death has been officially ruled a homicide as the result of a gunshot wound to the head,” reads Wednesday’s press release. “A small caliber bullet was recovered at the autopsy.”

This is the most recent update to the almost year-long case, which started after Ms. Bennett was reported missing Aug. 16, 2018, two days after she was last seen near her residence on Hibbs Road in Newport.

Soon after, on Sept. 4, Ms. Bennett’s boyfriend, Lewis Victor Branche III, known as Trey, 26, was taken into custody and charged with one open count of murder and one county concealing/failing to report a death.

At the time, authorities had not yet located Ms. Bennett’s body, but physical, digital and circumstantial evidence led them to believe Mr. Branche was involved in her death.

About a week after Ms. Bennett was reported missing, sheriff’s deputies and the State Bureau of Investigation searched the home she shared with Mr. Branche, and authorities seized two vehicles from their property.

Mr. Branche make a brief initial court appearance in Beaufort Sept. 5, the day after he was arrested. He was scheduled to appear again shortly after and deputies were set to continue searching for Ms. Bennett’s body, but Hurricane Florence in mid-September delayed plans.

Mr. Branche was reportedly not cooperating with authorities at the time of his arrest, and law enforcement have had few updates on the case since last year.

If found guilty, Mr. Branche could face up to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Prior to Tuesday’s discovery of the body, authorities suspected foul-play. Sheriff’s deputies located Ms. Bennett’s body on a property in Mill Creek belonging to Mr. Branche’s family.

Authorities said she was wrapped in a tarp alongside some of her belonging and buried several feet below the surface.

 “At the writing of this

release funeral arrangements have not been finalized,” authorities said Thursday morning. “This homicide remains open and no further information can be released as detectives continue to investigate this case.”

Reporter Elise Clouser contributed to this story.

Contact Dean-Paul Stephens at 252-726-7081, ext. 232; email Dean@thenewstimes.com; or follow on Twitter @DeanPEStephens.

(Previous report)

GREENVILLE — A Wednesday autopsy confirmed the body discovered by the Carteret County Sheriff’s Office this week is that of missing Newport woman Kristen Ashley Bennett, 24, who died of a gunshot wound to the head.

Deputies oversaw the autopsy performed at Vidant Health, according to a press release issued Thursday morning. Investigators managed to positively identify Ms. Bennett by comparing dental records.

“The manner of death has been officially ruled a homicide as the result of a gunshot wound to the head,” reads Wednesday’s press release. “A small caliber bullet was recovered at the autopsy.”

This is the most recent update to the almost year-long case, which started after Ms. Bennet was reported missing in August of last year.

Soon after, Ms. Bennett’s boyfriend, Lewis Victor Branche III, 26, was taken into custody and charged with one open count of murder and one county concealing/failing to report a death.

Prior to Tuesday’s discovery of the body, authorities suspected foul-play.

Sheriff’s deputies, according to Wednesday’s press release, eventually located the body on the property of Mr. Branche’s family.

“At the  writing  of  this

release funeral arrangements have not been finalized,” reads the release. “This homicide remains open and no further information can be released as detectives continue to investigate this case.”

Contact Dean-Paul Stephens at 252-726-7081, ext. 232; email Dean@thenewstimes.com; or follow on Twitter @DeanPEStephens.

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