ALPHARETTA, Ga — An Alpharetta man will spend more than a decade in prison after pleading guilty for his role in the heroin-related death of a former friend.
Just as lawyers were prepared to mount his defense to a jury, Cory Ben-Hanania, 21, opted to plead guilty to involuntary manslaughter, reckless conduct and distribution of heroin. The negotiated plea deal means he'll spend 12 years of a 20-year sentence in prison.
Ben-Hanania was facing life in prison if convicted of felony murder.
Prosecutors contend Ben-Hanania injected his friend, Chelsea Bennett, with a lethal dose of heroin during a night of consensual drug use last March, and then failed to call 911 when the aspiring actress overdosed in the bedroom of his parents' Alpharetta home.
Two other men, Sebastian Andrade and Kevin McCaffrey, previously took plea deals. McCaffrey is serving a 4-year sentence for selling the heroin to Andrade, Bennett and Ben-Hanania. Andrade's deal put him on probation.
"I didn't inject Chelsea. I didn't inject Sebastian," Ben-Hanania said to Judge John Goger Friday. "I'm taking this, because I'm scared."
Ben-Hanania only apologized to Bennett's family after Chelsea's mother, Rita, read an emotional statement to the judge asking for justice.
"I'm sorry. I wish I'd woke up. I wish I did something. I'm sorry," he said. "You guys know I loved Chelsea. I didn't want this to happen to her."
Bennett's mother said she's tormented by her daughter's death and said that Chelsea wanted to help Ben-Hanania, who was struggling with drug addiction.
"She believed that you could be a better person, but for all of her efforts, you paid her back by taking her life," Rita Bennett said in a written statement to the judge. "You sat and watched her die while you texted your girlfriend about meeting up later."
Rita Bennett, however, told Channel 2's Mike Petchenik that her family forgives Ben-Hanania and hopes he gets the help he needs to straighten out his life.
"I just feel he's a young person. He made a horrible mistake," she told Petchenik. "Our daughter's life was the result of that, but to hold that inside and not forgive him would not be what we believe is the right thing."
Det. Jakai Braithwaite told Petchenik the case was personal for him.
"This case was difficult," he said. "A lot of nights we didn't sleep, a lot of tossing and turning, because we really did get wrapped up with this."
Braithwaite said he and his partner knew Bennett's death was more than just an accidental overdose from day one, and he wants what happened to send a message to other young people struggling with drug abuse.
"This is something you could be prosecuted for and leave this stuff alone," he said. "Heroin is nothing to mess with."