Several pieces of evidence connect man to Zionsville trail murder, court documents say


James Earl Hughes (Photo By Boone County Jail)

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ZIONSVILLE, Ind. – Zionsville police have arrested someone for the murder of a man found dead along a popular trail.

Court documents say DNA, a gun and clothing linked 23-year-old James Earl Hughes to the death of 23-year-old Samuel Bennett.

Bennett's body was found April 28 in a retention pond near the Big-4 Rail Trail in Zionsville. An autopsy showed Bennett had been shot twice, according to police.

Officials say evidence gathered at and near the scene of the crime, as well as through 12 warrants, led to Hughes' arrest.

Hughes was taken into custody in Indianapolis and has been taken to the Boone County Jail with no bond, police say.

Court documents show several pieces of evidence connected Hughes to the crime, including a Nirvana t-shirt and black gym shorts. The clothing was found in Hughes’ bedroom. A witness told police a man wearing a Nirvana t-shirt and black shorts was on the trail the morning Bennett was killed.

Zionsville police are still trying to find out if Bennett’s murder was random.

“We still do not know if it was premeditated or just a spur of the moment,” said Chief Robert Knox. “Investigators will continue to pursue any information and try to make the connection between Samuel Bennett and James Hughes.”

Police had previously arrested 28-year-old David Meschino, of Zionsville, for providing firearms to an ineligible person. Court documents say Meschino is on the autism spectrum and could have problems with memory.

Per a probable cause affidavit, Meschino told officers he had previously purchased three firearms for Hughes, who told Meschino he was unable to purchase them himself because of a felony conviction.

Police say Hughes has never been convicted of a felony.

When officers asked Meschino why Hughes needed the guns, Meschino told them because someone had "beef with James," according to the probable cause affidavit.

A probable cause affidavit says one of the guns Meschino admitted to buying for Hughes matches the gunshot wounds that killed Bennett. Police said it is the same type of gun an officer found near the crime scene and the only DNA police found on the gun belonged to Hughes.

“They had an association or friendship something along those lines prior to,” said Chief Knox.

Police later found Hughes at St. Vincent’s Stress Center in Indianapolis. Court documents say his parents took him there the night of the murder. When investigators asked Hughes’ father about his son, he claimed his wife said “he did it and that he admitted to it.”

“We still feel strongly our park system, our trails and our community are very safe. This can happen in any community,” said Chief Knox.

CBS4 went to the Boone County jail to hear Hughes’ side of the story. On Thursday, he declined our request for an interview.

The family of Samuel Bennett issued this statement regarding the arrest:

“Our family is grateful to the various law enforcement agencies and officers for their thorough and swift action leading to the arrest. We appreciate the outpouring of support from the community and ask only to be provided with privacy and your continued prayers as we deal with the unimaginable loss of our beloved Sam.”

The Zionsville Police Department is still urging anyone with information regarding this investigation to contact the department at 317-873-5967.

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