PORTLAND — William Googins of Gray told police he had no idea that his single punch to the face of 24-year-old Eric Benson would injure Benson so badly.

But the Westbrook man dropped to the ground and hit the back of his head on the bricks of Monument Square. His head was bleeding as witnesses tried to give him CPR.

Rescue workers took over, then surgeons at Maine Medical Center, but Benson died after the confrontation before dawn Sunday.

Googins, 20, appeared Wednesday in Portland District Court, where he was charged with manslaughter. His attorney, Joel Vincent, did not object to the $100,000 bail sought by prosecutors.

Googins will be held in Cumberland County Jail pending a court date unless he is released on bail.

Several of Googins’ family members attended Wednesday’s court proceeding, but they declined comment afterward.
Benson’s uncle, Duane Gushee, attended the hearing on behalf of the Benson family.

“Eric was a very happy-go-lucky person. He always had a smile on his face,” Gushee said. “I don’t believe Eric was looking for a confrontation. It found him.”

A police affidavit submitted to support Googins’ arrest details a brief, violent encounter prompted by Googins and two friends making sexual advances toward a woman with whom Benson was walking.

Kimberly Thomas, a co-worker of Benson’s at the Lowe’s store in Portland, was heading toward Congress Street with him at 1:30 a.m. when three men approached them.

“Kimberly advised me that the males were making sexual advances toward her,” the investigating officer, Dan Jose Aguilera, wrote in the affidavit.

Thomas told Aguilera that in the heat of the moment, she told the men she was Benson’s girlfriend.

One of the three men suddenly punched Benson in the face, she said. Then the men ran.

Police began an investigation, and once details of the attack were made public, a man who had been with Googins contacted police Sunday night.

Kyle Estabrook said he knew Googins from Gray-New Gloucester High School. They had been at the Oasis bar on Wharf Street and had stayed until last call, after which time alcohol is no longer served.

Googins, Brian Estabrook and Peter Clement walked toward Brian Estabrook’s apartment while Kyle Estabrook retrieved his car, the affidavit said. Kyle Estabrook, Brian’s brother, said he was not present during the confrontation.

Kyle Estabrook said the three men met up with him on Congress Street and they were talking about the incident. They drove past Monument Square and saw police gathered there.

Clement told police that he wasn’t with the others at the Oasis bar, but met up with them to get a ride home. He said he was about 15 feet away when he saw Googins argue with a man and a woman and then punch the man before running away.

Clement also said he gave Googins a ride to Waterville on Sunday.

Brian Estabrook gave police Googins’ cell phone number.

Googins initially refused to turn himself in to police. Detective Scott Dunham spoke with Googins’ older brother, Dustin Googins, who described his brother as very upset and very scared. Dustin Googins also said his brother was not hiding, but trying to contact a lawyer.

“Later in the day I received a call from Billy (Googins),” Dunham wrote. “He told me that he had no idea that the other person had been hurt so badly.”

Googins turned himself in at 4 p.m. Monday, accompanied by his brother and his grandmother. He declined to answer detectives’ questions on the advice of his lawyer, but said he would in the future.

Googins was crying, Dunham noted.

Police say they are investigating how Googins, who is not old enough to drink legally, was allegedly served alcohol at the bar before the incident.

Googins was charged initially with aggravated assault, but Deputy Attorney General William Stokes said the evidence supports a charge of manslaughter.

A person is guilty of manslaughter if they recklessly, or with criminal negligence, cause the death of another person. The offense is punishable by up to 40 years in prison.

Prosecutors say the next likely step is that the evidence against Googins will be presented to a grand jury.

Staff Writer David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

[email protected]