BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — While assigned to internal affairs in 1983, Paul Kent launched an investigation after a prostitute reported a Kern County sheriff’s deputy forced her to strip then photographed her.
Kent identified and interviewed the deputy, who was fired but later reinstated following an appeal.
A few years later, when Kent learned testing on bullets found in the bodies of two slain prostitutes revealed the ammunition was almost exclusively used by law enforcement, the deputy’s name immediately sprang to mind.
“You guys ought to take a look at David Rogers,” Kent said he told investigators.
His hunch proved accurate. Rogers, who prosecutors say was obsessed with prostitutes, was convicted of two counts of murder in 1988 and sentenced to death for killing Janine Marie Benintende, 20, and Tracie Johnn’a Clark, 15. Benintende was killed in early 1986 and Clark a year later.
Thirty-nine years after he first investigated Rogers, Kent on Monday sat in the same room as the former deputy as he testified on the second day of Rogers’ penalty phase retrial.
Rogers, 75, has spent decades at San Quentin State Prison but is back in Bakersfield for a retrial in which jurors will decide whether he should be resentenced to death, or life in prison without the possibility of parole.
The state Supreme Court in 2019 overturned his death sentence after determining a prosecution witness whose testimony was used during the penalty phase falsely testified he sexually assaulted her. His murder convictions remain intact.
Kent, a retired sheriff’s commander, testified Ellen Martinez came forward in February 1983 to report two deputies — a man and woman — interrupted a sexual encounter she was having with a customer in a car parked at Union Cemetery. Martinez earlier testified she had been working as a prostitute in Bakersfield for several weeks.
The deputies decided not to arrest them, and a decision was made for the male deputy to give Martinez a ride somewhere else.
The female deputy — who drove separately — left the cemetery. The male then ordered Martinez to remove her clothing and had her pose nude in the back of his patrol vehicle while he took photos, she said.
Kent reviewed call logs and found Rogers had responded to an incident at Union Cemetery on the night of Feb. 9, 1983. Another deputy, a woman who matched the description given by Martinez, had also been there.
Kent set up a sting operation in which Martinez wore a wire and Rogers was sent to speak with her at a motel under the pretext she had information for him. Kent and another investigator listened in from a motel room as Martinez asked for one of the photos back. Rogers told her they had been booked into evidence, Kent said. He didn’t deny taking them.
Later, after questioning Rogers, investigators searched his locker, briefcase, and pickup, Kent said. They found between 100 to 200 photos of women Kent suspected were prostitutes in two metal cabinets kept in the bed of Rogers’ pickup. No photos of Martinez were found.
Rogers was suspended and later fired. He appealed, however, got his job back and was reassigned to the Downtown Jail. A few years later, he was back on patrol.
Later Monday, Mack Wimbish, who served as Kern County sheriff from 2003 to 2007 and spent 34 years with the California Highway Patrol, testified to the extent of the problem posed by prostitution on Union Avenue in the 1980s.
Wimbish testified he regularly patrolled that area and there were so many prostitutes lining the sidewalk that part of CHP’s duty was to make sure traffic didn’t get backed up. From midnight to 2 a.m., there was heavy traffic on Union between California Avenue and Brundage Lane, he said.