ELKTON — A 17-year-old boy who was charged with attempted murder after he allegedly stabbed a stranger on the street of a North East-area neighborhood in an unprovoked, random attack is facing up to 25 years in prison after accepting a plea deal.

The defendant, Marquis E. Benson, who turns 18 on Thursday, entered an Alford plea to first-degree assault Friday during a pre-trial hearing. In an Alford plea, the defendant maintains his innocence while acknowledging that the state possesses enough evidence to convict him at trial.

Benson did so as part of a plea bargain in which prosecutors will dismiss six related charges against the teen – including attempted first-degree murder, which carries a maximum life sentence, and attempted second-degree murder, punishable by up to 40 years in prison. First-degree assault carries a maximum 25-year sentence.

Cecil County Circuit Court Judge William W. Davis Jr. accepted Benson’s Alford plea and then found him guilty of first-degree assault, based on a statement of fact presented by prosecutors. Assistant State’s Attorney Nathan Bowen and Benson’s defense lawyer, Christina Harris Schlecker, negotiated the plea agreement.

Sentencing is set for April 24.

Benson randomly attacked a 24-year-old North East-area man on Aug. 23, after spotting him walking in the area of Champlain Road and Champlain Court in the Lakeside Mobile Home Park while he and three other people, including Benson’s 17-year-old brother, were joy-riding in a stolen Ford Escape, according to court records.

After stepping out of the front passenger’s side door, Benson approached the man and stabbed him in the back with a knife as the man started to walk away from him, court records show.

Benson and his three companions sped away in the stolen vehicle, leaving the wounded man, police said. The victim was taken to Christiana Hospital in Delaware after he called family members for help, police added.

Maryland State Police troopers arrested Benson and his three companions at approximately 11:15 p.m. on Aug. 23, shortly after the stabbing, while chasing the Ford Escape in response to a stolen vehicle complaint, police said.

The foursome ran away after the Ford Escape crashed on Route 7 near North East during that pursuit, and troopers captured them in that area a short time later, police added.

Troopers then learned that doctors at Christiana Hospital in Delaware were treating a man who had been stabbed near North East in an incident involving a stolen white Ford Escape, which prompted an MSP investigator to interview the victim at that medical center, police reported.

Meanwhile, MSP investigators interviewed Benson and his brother separately at the North East Barrack. (Benson’s brother, who, according to court records, turned 18 one week after the incident, reportedly was charged as a juvenile.)

“(He) implicated his brother (Benson) as the passenger who stabbed the man . . . He also stated the four (occupants of the stolen Ford Escape) knew they were going to Lakeside to look for someone to fight,” according to court records, which indicate that Benson’s brother also told investigators that all of the occupants were aware there was a knife in that vehicle.

During his interview, however, Benson admitted only to a lesser involvement in the random attack, according to court records. Benson blamed the driver of the stolen Ford Escape – Joshua Ryan Warren, 15, of Elkton — for stabbing the man, court records show.

“Benson advised he likes to fight people and he knew that everyone in the vehicle agreed to ‘jump’ the first person they saw while driving through the Lakeside trailer park. Benson stated he was implicated in the assault by punching (the man) in the face as hard as he could. Benson stated he knew Joshua Ryan Warren stabbed (the man) because, after the assault, Warren was looking for his knife and stated he lost his murder weapon,” court records allege.

Benson also told investigators that Warren made all of his passengers aware that the Ford Escape had been stolen in Elkton, according to court records. Police reported that the Ford Escape, which is valued at $20,762, had been stolen from an Elkton resident, who later identified the vehicle as his.

A jury trial for Warren, also charged as an adult in the case, is scheduled to start April 21, according to court records. Benson is facing 14 charges, including first-degree assault, second-degree assault, unlawful motor vehicle taking and several traffic offense. Warren, who was driving the alleged stolen car, turns 16 on Feb. 29, court records show.

Attempted murder charges were not filed against Warren; Benson is the only defendant in this case who was charged with attempted murder.

The man who suffered the stab wounds told an MSP investigator that “a passenger exited the vehicle and approached him,” seconds before knifing him, court records show.

During a November courtroom hearing in which Davis denied a defense motion to transfer Benson’s criminal case to juvenile court, the judge commented from the bench, “The most terrifying thing about this case is they were looking to randomly target someone. They didn’t know the person. The scariest thing . . . it could have been anyone in this room if you were unfortunate enough to be in the location where the victim was.”

The victim suffered puncture wounds to his lungs and diaphragm.

“He damn near killed him,” Bowen told the judge during the proceeding, after gesturing toward the victim seated in the gallery and commenting, “The only thing worse would be if he weren’t here.”

One of Benson’s co-defendants, Jordan K. Fields, 19, of Elkton, is awaiting his April 3 sentencing after he entered an Alford plea to conspiracy to commit second-degree assault during a Jan. 22 hearing, The offense carries a maximum 10-year sentence. Fields occupied a rear seat, beside Benson’s older brother, in the alleged stolen Ford Escape on the day of the incident, police reported.

The case against Benson’s older brother reportedly was handled in juvenile court.

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