I-TEAM: Could Nocatee realtor's murder have been prevented?

Lynn Bender granted injunction against ex, but SAO dropped criminal charge

By Vic Micolucci - I-TEAM reporter, anchor

NOCATEE, Fla. - Could a murder-suicide in Nocatee have been prevented? That’s the question from family and friends of 53-year-old Lynn Bender.

The Re/Max realtor was killed over the weekend in her home on Southern Oak Drive. St. Johns County deputies said her ex-boyfriend, 60-year-old Simon Hanley, fatally shot her before turning the gun on himself.

The News4Jax I-TEAM has discovered Bender had called for protection against Hanley before, but prosecutors dropped a criminal stalking charge against him.

Flowers, stuffed animals and cards sat on her porch, days after her brutal death. They’re subtle reminders of what happened behind the doors of her quaint home in a quiet Nocatee neighborhood. Someone found Bender’s body, along with Hanley’s body, in the home Saturday afternoon.

Court documents, obtained from the St. Johns County Clerk of Court, show Bender was in fear for her life, claiming Hanley stalked her for months.

In a petition for injunction for protection against stalking, Bender wrote a timeline of their contact:

She said they broke up Sept. 4
On Sept. 5, he texted her, threatening her professional reputation, she said.
In the following weeks, according to the injunction, he continued to contact her until she blocked him.
In October, he sent packages, cards and gifts to her home.
On Oct. 20, he approached her at the beach as she was walking her dog. She wrote that he tried to kiss her, got angry and stormed off.
On Nov. 9, he had a golf cart delivered to her home.
On Nov. 10, he sent her an email, saying, “Kharma (sic) is in my cards.”
The attempts continued into December when she filed for an injunction against him on Dec. 5.
On Dec. 12, a judge signed an order, mandating that Hanley wear a GPS ankle monitor and stay 500 feet away from Bender’s home and realty office.

A St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office spokesman said deputies had warned Hanley to stay away before. After receiving notice of the injunction, they arrested him on a charge of stalking.

In March, however, after hiring an attorney and going to hearings, prosecutors dropped the criminal charge and allowed Hanley to enter a pretrial diversion program. The injunction, set to last until December 2020, stayed in place, but Hanley’s GPS monitor was removed.

He killed Bender and himself two months later, deputies said. 

Bryan Shorstein, a spokesman for the 7th Judicial Circuit State Attorney’s Office, sent a written statement after a request from News4Jax.

He said, "After the injunction and GPS order were in place, all contact stopped. At a hearing in February, Ms. Bender testified that there had been no further contact and that the defendant had never made a violent threat to her."

Shorstein said Hanley successfully completed a psychological and mental evaluation. Another factor in dismissing his case was a lack of criminal history, except for a DUI charge 17 years prior.

"These cases are very difficult and we try every day to put things in place that will protect the victims of Domestic Violence," Shorstein wrote. "Sometimes despite all of our efforts, they have tragic endings. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the victims family and victims of Domestic Violence everywhere."

As of publishing, messages to Hanley’s private attorney, Malcolm Anthony, and Bender’s counsel, Sung Lee, had not been returned.

Joyce Mahr runs the Betty Griffin Center for domestic violence victims. Her agency offers resources for endangered women. She believes, given the facts, the shooting could have been prevented.

“Yes, if he had that ankle monitor on and she had the app, there’s a good chance that she could have secured herself to be safe, which is sad,” Mahr said. “Sometimes (the victim) can do everything right, but unfortunately, people just do not have control over what the batterer does.”

What happened over the weekend is still under investigation, but Mahr said it’s important this doesn’t happen again. And the community can help.

“The victim knows better than anyone else and all ears need to be listening,” Mahr said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s law enforcement, judge, prosecutor. They all need to be listening. And take what that victim is saying seriously.”

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