SoCal man killed by cops was 2004 murder suspect

LOS ANGELES — A former child actor killed by police after a two-hour standoff as he held his 7-year-old son hostage in a restaurant was a suspect wanted for the 2004 murder of his girlfriend, authorities said Wednesday.

The boy was wounded.

The man killed was 38-year-old Manuel Benitez, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department said in a statement. Police were searching for his mother, who may have been traveling with him.

Authorities had been seeking Benitez since the slaying of Stephanie Spears in Hawthorne more than four years ago. She had been beaten to death with a dumbbell.

Benitez had a son with Spears, named Benjamin, and the child had not been seen since Spears' death, according to Benitez' fugitive profile on the FBI Web site.

Benjamin suffered a gunshot wound to the thigh in Tuesday's standoff in suburban El Monte, said sheriff's Lt. Liam Gallagher. He would not say who shot the boy.

The boy was listed in stable condition Wednesday at Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center, hospital spokeswoman Adelaida De La Cerda said.

Benitez was charged with murder and a California warrant was issued for his arrest in May 2005, the FBI Web site said. A federal warrant for unlawful flight to avoid prosecution was issued in March 2006. The FBI had offered a $20,000 reward for information leading to his arrest.

El Monte police Detective Ralph Batres said the standoff began after an officer noticed a man take a boy off the sidewalk and head to a Chinese restaurant in a strip mall. Benitez ignored the officer's orders to stop and barricaded himself inside, Batres said.

Police said Benitez, who wore a camouflage jacket and had two handguns, held the boy hostage in a back room of the restaurant.

Gallagher said Benitez told police during negotiations that he was going to shoot police and harm the child.

Police closed nearby streets and shoppers were evacuated from neighboring stores as dozens of officers and emergency crews surrounded the restaurant.

Benitez was declared dead after police threw a flash-bang grenade into the restaurant and exchanged gunfire with him, Gallagher said.

The sheriff's statement said detectives were seeking the public's help in finding his mother, Elizabeth Velasco, who authorities believed may have been traveling with Benitez.

The FBI Web site said Benitez, who was featured on "America's Most Wanted" earlier this year, had been a child actor who used the name Mark Everett, one of several Benitez aliases listed in the sheriff's department statement.

As child actor Mark Everett, Benitez had small parts in the television shows "Highway to Heaven" and "Trapper John, MD," and the movies "Pee Wee's Big Adventure" and "Stand and Deliver," according to the FBI and The Internet Movie Database Web site.

The sheriff's statement said Benitez also went by the names Mike Evers and Manuel Velasco.

El Monte is a city of about 116,000 people 13 miles east of Los Angeles.

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