Defense Attorney Matt Van Houten

ITHACA, N.Y. — In opening statements Friday morning,  jurors were told that there would be no question whether accused murderer Benjamin Cayea killed his girlfriend Shannon Jones last year on Thanksgiving Day.

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But defense attorney Matt Van Houten says Cayea — who is charged with second-degree murder — did not intend to kill Jones.

He said Cayea was living a quiet life working various jobs in Tompkins County without a long-term plan for his future — until he met 23-year-old Jones in late 2012 or early 2013.

“Ben and Shannon talked about getting married and having babies and living their life together,” Van Houten said.

Defense Attorney Matt Van Houten
Defense Attorney Matt Van Houten

“In the context of every trial, there’s a story. Piece by piece, chapter by chapter, you’re presented with the story by way of evidence, by way of the testimony, by way of the witnesses. And when you incur all the chapters at the end of this trial, you are going to determine the end of this story.”

See related: Prosecutor in Cornell murder trial: ‘This was no accident’

He said Jones and Cayea led an alternative lifestyle together, one jurors said during selection that they would not hold against either of them.

Van Houten said jurors will likely hear facts about Cayea and Jones’ relationship that “fall outside the norm.” But the facts are essential to the outcome of the trial.

“It’s not my intention in any way — nor does Ben support this — in fact he’s adamantly against what you might consider to be attacking or speaking negatively about Shannon Jones,” Van Houten said. “The truth is the truth, however.”

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Round-up of previous coverage

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Jolene Almendarez is Managing Editor at The Ithaca Voice. She can be reached at; you can learn more about her at the links in the top right of this box.