Judge sentences Charlotte men to life for murderous, drug-related ambush

On a day that one trial involving drugs and murder in Charlotte was opening, another was closing – with two men sent to prison for the rest of their lives after they fatally ambushed a suspected cocaine supplier in 2014.

U.S. District Judge Frank Whitney handed down the life sentences Thursday to Carlos Benson, 37, and Jacob Hill, 36, who planned the robbery in east Charlotte in which Darrell Hames, 26, was shot six times, including once in the back of the head.

Across town, Mecklenburg prosecutors offered the first full day of testimony and evidence in the murder case of Edward Sanchez, who’s accused of four killings in separate 2015 robberies that also involved drugs.

That left defense attorney Scott Gsell scrambling between the federal and county courthouses. He represented Benson during the federal case. He is representing Sanchez in the state trial.

In the federal case, Benson and Hill were each convicted of nine charges, from robbery and kidnapping to firearms and drug violations. Benson, who fired the shots that killed Hames, received consecutive life sentences from Whitney.

According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the killing occurred after Benson and Hill, who had been buying cocaine from one of Hames’ dealers, strong-armed the dealer’s cell phone to call Hames and arrange a drug buy outside an apartment complex on Shamrock Drive.

Benson hid in the back of Hames’ parked car. When Hames arrived, he climbed into the front passenger seat of his vehicle. Benson popped up behind him with his gun drawn, telling Hames not to move and demanding his rings. When Hames reached for the gun tucked in his pocket, Benson opened fire. Though mortally wounded, Hames managed one shot that struck his killer.

Hill and Benson eventually drove off. But Hill detoured to a secluded cul-de-sac, where he left his wounded accomplice in tall grass. That’s where paramedics later found him.

As with the Sanchez trial, Hill and Benson’s sentencing hearing drew numerous grieving relatives who gave emotional testimony about Hames on Thursday to the judge.

After the hearing, U.S. Attorney Jill Rose put out a statement that included this detail: Hames was killed over a small amount of drugs and cash.

Michael Gordon: 704-358-5095, @MikeGordonOBS