Crime & Courts

No death penalty in killing of Charlotte college counselor

Prosecutors have decided not to seek the death penalty against a man accused of killing college counselor Amanda Strous in June.

Strous, 27, was found dying in her burning apartment at The Enclave at Rivergate, just weeks before her wedding. First responders took Strous to Carolinas Medical Center-Steele Creek, where she was pronounced dead.

Police charged a man who lived in the same complex with murder and first-degree arson. Suspect Mathew Thomas Benner, 28, was arrested in Nevada. Authorities there said he confessed to Strous’ killing after he was arrested outside a hotel where he’d asked to use the bathroom.

Prosecutors said at a hearing in Mecklenburg County Superior Court on Thursday that they will not seek the death penalty against Benner, who remains jailed without bail.

Meghan Cooke McDonald, spokeswoman for the Mecklenburg County District Attorney’s Office, declined to say why the office will not seek the death penalty in the case. “Prosecutors’ ethical obligations prevent the DA’s Office from discussing further details,” Cooke said in an email reply to the Observer.

Benner’s lawyer, Jeremy Smith of Smith Horton Law of Charlotte, declined to comment about the decision.

In a statement after Benner’s arrest, Smith said “law enforcement in Nevada made statements regarding alleged events surrounding Mr. Benner’s arrest. There has also been extensive speculation in various media reports about the events at issue in this case. We, as officers of the court and as the attorneys for Mr. Benner, ask that the public reserve judgment in this case until the facts are presented in court.

“We have complete confidence in the justice system’s ability to find the truth, and we do not intend to try this case in the media,” the statement said.

Strous moved to Charlotte last year to be close to her fiance, Cory McCleaf, and had worked for about six months as a student counselor at Central Piedmont Community College’s Harper Campus, off Nations Ford Road, college officials said. She helped students plan their academic paths.

She grew up in York, Pa., and went to college in Shippensburg, Pa., where she played field hockey from 2007 until 2010. She graduated with a degree in psychology and a minor in art.

After graduation, she spent a year as an assistant coach at Hamilton College in New York. She returned to Shippensburg in 2012 to work as an assistant coach while studying for a master’s degree in counseling, according to a statement from the school.

Joe Marusak: 704-358-5067, @jmarusak