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Verdicts console mother of sailor

Mary Pickels
| Thursday, May 13, 2010

A Mount Pleasant woman said she feels some measure of justice after the convictions of two men in the 2007 shooting death of her son, Mark T. VanHorn, who was serving with the Navy in Virginia.

Following separate trials earlier this year, Steven Alexander Breaux, 25, formerly of Norfolk, and Charles Lorenzo Butler, 26, formerly of Virginia Beach, were convicted of homicide in the Jan. 15, 2007, deaths of VanHorn, 24, and Michael T. Porter, 26, of the state of California.

Melvajo Bennett and VanHorn's stepfather, Ike Bennett, were in Virginia Beach for the guilty verdicts.

"We had to be there and make sure his name was handled properly," Bennett said.

Breaux was convicted of two counts of first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder and three counts of use of a firearm in the commission of a felony. A jury recommended a prison sentence of 93 years.

"He's the one who actually shot Mark," Bennett said. "As long as he can't put any other families through this."

Butler was convicted of first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder and two counts of use of a firearm in the commission of a felony. A jury recommended a prison sentence of 54 years.

VanHorn, a 2000 graduate of Mount Pleasant Area High School, was serving aboard the USS Winston S. Churchill. Bennett said her son sometimes did security work at the Ocean's Cabaret, a nightclub near Oceana Air Naval Station.

According to evidence presented at trial, Butler and Breaux were asked to leave the club that night because they had harassed a waitress. VanHorn was among the club security officers, patrons and an off-duty Portsmouth sheriff's deputy who followed the two men into a parking lot.

Police said Breaux pulled out a handgun and shot VanHorn in the head, killing him. Butler then pulled out a weapon and both ran, shooting into a crowd of people who were leaving the club. Porter was in the crowd. He was shot twice and died at the scene, according to testimony.

The sheriff's deputy, Hector Diaz, got his service weapon from his vehicle. After he identified himself, Butler and Breaux shot at him.

Police officers and K-9 units found the men hiding in a nearby wooded area.

Bennett said her son was 6 feet, 3 inches tall and weighed more than 200 pounds.

"My son was the biggest teddy bear in the world," she said. "There was no confrontation. He asked them (Breaux and Butler) to stop."

Bennett said her son joined the Navy in 2002. A sonar technician, he was part of a party that in 2006 boarded a pirate vessel off the coast of Somalia, she said.

"He made some fantastic friends," she said. "They still stay in touch with us. I got calls and e-mails for Mother's Day. We have this whole other family. It's testament to the type of friends he had."

Many of those friends who are still in Virginia attended the trials with the family.

"That's what got us through," Bennett said. "We had so much support."

VanHorn had two brothers, Frank, 31, and Kurt, 24, and several nieces.

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