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Lach convicted, sentenced in slaying at science building

1970 FORT WORTH - Benjamin Lach, 25-year-old former Texas Tech student, was found guilty of murder with malice here Saturday and was ordered confined in the state penitentiary for 40 years. The state had asked for the death penalty.

Defense co-counsels Bill Gillespie and A. W. Salyars indicated they would appeal the decision.

Lach, who sat practically without emotion throughout the two-week trial, maintained his coolness when both of the verdicts were read by Judge Byron Matthews. He did, however, return smiling to the courtroom when the bailiff brought him into the courtroom of Criminal District Court No. 1 to hear the jury find him guilty.

The smile left as the judge read, "We the jury find the defendant guilty as charged, in the indictment" (in the murder of Sarah Alice Morgan in a laboratory on the third floor of the Science Building on the Texas Tech campus.)

The panel deliberated one hour and 58 minutes.

The defendant's mother, Mrs. Herman Lach of Boston, sat motionless, staring straight ahead, her eyes a bit red from earlier weeping during final arguments.

Benjamin Lach, 25-year-old former Texas Tech student, was sentenced to 40 years after his conviction of the murder of Mrs. Sarah Alice Morgan in a laboratory on the thrid floor of the Science Building on the Texas Tech campus in Lubbock.

Before the jury of 11 men and one woman returned its punishment decision after 48 minutes of deliberation, Judge Matthews admonished the handful of spectators with a warning, "I trust we won't have any outbreaks when this verdict is read. If anyone feels he cannot control his emotions please leave the courtroom now."

There was hardly a sound in the courtroom. Lach fixed his gaze on a paper on the defense counsel table and didn't look up until his attorneys arose.

The guilty verdict was returned at 3:22 p.m. and the punishment verdict was read at 4:32 p.m.

Neither the defense nor the state - represented by Dist. Atty. Blair Cherry Jr. and special prosecutor Alton Griffin - offered evidence on the punishment decision.

Gillespie appealed to the jury for the minimum of two years. He said, "The supreme penalty would not fit this case."

Earlier, in the final arguments, Griffin told the jury, "Alice Morgan gave her life so Benjamin Lach could make high grades."

"I submit to you that the evidence shows Benjamin Lach killed her," he added. Alluding to the fact that the defense had pointed an accusing finger at others during the trial, Griffin said, "If you don't have a defense, try someone else.

"How do you account for the fact that Benjamin Lach had a key (to Dr. Ken Rylander's office) when only 37 had been issued in five years and all of them accounted for but this one?" he said holding a small envelop up before the jury and then tossing it on a nearby table.

"And why would he run? Why would he run 38 blocks ... Steal a car... Then stop and tell an officer I'm not gonna be taken alive' just for breaking and entering?"

Then, Griffin attacked the testimony of Joan Dominick, who earlier had testified that Lach had walked her home the night of Dec. 4, 1967, when Morgan was murdered in a laboratory on the third floor of the Science Building on the Tech campus .

"She said he walked her home," Griffin pointed out. "Yet Lach told Larry Hagood they had seen his bicycle near the building where the woman was found." Griffin said Lach had ridden on his bicycle directly from the Science Building to the student union after the murder, rather than walking the girl home.

Griffin said other witnesses also placed him in the building shortly before the scalpel slaying.

"I submit to you the evidence shows Ben Lach killed her...

"The motive? Well, I grant you, it (the key) wasn't enough to kill Alice Morgan for - but he did," Griffin said, pointing a finger at the suspect. Lach never moved an eyelash.

In dramatic plea

"Benjamin Lach wasn't the one lying on the floor in room 304-J ... with his throat cut ... with his spinal column cut almost two inches ... He cut in slashes. Benjamin Lach wanted to be a doctor, so he cut in slashes," Griffin said, extending a forefinger under the chin and running it from ear to ear.

Opening for defense in the closing summations, Gillespie said, "When Blair Cherry says you're going to turn a killer loose on society, you weigh that. Look right down the wire in every instance at the logic of the case and look at the failure of the prosecution to prove beyond reasonable doubt."

When you (the jury) do this, he added, "the scales of justice will tip one way - to the side of the defendant."

Salyars, in closing, said the state had four key points:

• That the defendant went into Dr. Rylander's office. "But that doesn't prove murder."

• The key. "Hers was missing. He had one. That's not beyond reasonable doubt."

• Identification. "Not proven beyond reasonable doubt."

• The confession. "There is no mention of a saw. But he did say, I don't remember doing it.'"

Salyars also hammered at the "third party confession" - the tape recording mailed to Tech Security by an unknown person. "He said they'll never catch him, and knowing the Lubbock Police department, I'm not surprised..."

Cherry opened the prosecution's final argument, hitting hard at the fact that only custodians carried "Grandmaster" keys and that Lach had a "Grandmaster" key in his custody.

"And several placed him in the building."

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SPECIAL SECTIONS: 1909-1933 / 1934-1958 / 1959-1983 / 1984-PRESENT | PRINT VERSION