ABILENE, Texas - UPDATE: Justin Bennett has officially been charged with murder in the death of Meagan Dearman.
Jail records were updated Monday afternoon to reflect the charge. His bond is set at $200,000.
According to court documents, the cause of death is strangulation.
Search warrants filed Monday afternoon say Abilene police believe Justin Bennett killed his girlfriend Meagan Dearman, whose body was found Friday at a lake in Baird.
Bennett told an acquaintance that he got into a fight with Dearman and “hurt her bad,” according to an affidavit. That acquaintance then told Dearman’s family, who alerted Abilene police.
Another person told police that Bennett said he killed Dearman and buried her body at a lake.
KTXS reported when Bennett was arrested Thursday on unrelated warrants. Court records say he was arrested in Merkel and was very uncooperative when detectives interviewed him about Dearman’s disappearance. Police say that before ending the interview, Bennett said he didn’t know where Dearman was and stated, “I don’t give a [expletive] about Meagan.”
During the investigation, police said another acquaintance of Bennett’s told detectives that she often allowed Bennett to use her vehicle and added that he had borrowed it on Jan. 17 and Jan. 18. Police searched the vehicle and found evidence of blood inside.
That same person told police that Bennett said he strangled Dearman. Court records say the Tarrant County Medical Examiner's Office confirmed that Dearman died by strangulation.
PHOTOS OF MEAGAN DEARMAN -> http://www.ktxs.com/294260097
Another clue was found at the scene of T&P Lake in Baird, where Dearman’s body was found. According to an affidavit, a shoe print was found at the scene that was estimated to be size 16. When Bennett was arrested, he had a shoe that matched the size and pattern found in Baird.
Police have requested DNA from Bennett to compare to evidence collected from Dearman’s body and clothes.
Abilene Police Chief Stan Standridge said during a news conference Monday that if the city of Abilene wants to be "the city on the hill, we're going to have to address the issue of domestic violence with intentionality." He said there were 1,945 reports of domestic violence in the city in 2016 and that three of the eight homicides last year were related to domestic violence.
"If you're being abused, we have plenty of resources in the city of Abilene to walk alongside you to get you out of that abusive relationship," Standridge said. "I give you my word, we're going to work with you to get you out of that abusive relationship."
Standridge then thanked the various law enforcement agencies and departments who assisted with the investigation.
Sgt. Lynn Beard with APD then gave the timeline of the investigation, starting with the filing of the missing person report on Jan. 25.
Beard said current information indicates the murder happened in Taylor County and that T&P Lake was the dump site.
Standridge ended the conference by saying the department knows of several individuals who are connected to Bennett that weren't fully cooperative and that if they're found to be complicit, they'll be criminally charged. He said this was their chance to get in front of this before they're contacted by officers with discrepancies in their reports.
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