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Grandmother gets 50 years in fatal stabbing she says she doesn’t recall

Phyllis Carpenter was senteced 50 years fatal stabbing she says she doesn't remember.  | Al Podgorski~Chicago Sun-Times

Phyllis Carpenter was senteced to 50 years in a fatal stabbing she says she doesn't remember. | Al Podgorski~Chicago Sun-Times

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Updated: March 2, 2013 6:11AM

A South Side grandmother was sentenced to 50 years in prison Monday for murdering her next-door neighbor in a frenzied stabbing she said she doesn’t remember.

Phyllis Hart Carpenter attacked Benjamin Cole in the most “brutal and violent” manner by slashing him 59 times, Cook County Judge Arthur Hill said.

And even if Cole, 60, had tried to sexually assault her in his apartment as Carpenter claims, “How many stab wounds [does she need] to defend herself? When does that cross the line to rage and revenge?” the judge asked.

Assistant public defenders Julie Koehler and Sandra Parris argued during Carpenter’s November jury trial that Carpenter had lashed out at Cole after he pinned her on his bed and tried to rape her on the morning of Aug. 2, 2006.

Carpenter doesn’t remember hurting Cole because she went into a dissociative state due to the trauma she endured when she was raped as a child, Koehler said.

But prosecutors Caren Armbrust and Tracy Senica told jurors Carpenter knew what she was doing and might have been motivated to kill Cole because she needed money to feed a prescription drug habit.

Carpenter was acquitted of armed robbery.

The day of the murder, Willie Mae Cole was on the phone with her brother “shooting the breeze” when he suddenly said “hold on a minute” and the line went dead.

An hour later, Willie Mae Cole got a call from her daughter, telling her that her brother with the “boastful laugh” was dead.

Willie Mae Cole told Hill Monday she missed getting “high fives” from her brother and smelling the pungent smell pouring through his skin after he nibbled on onions and garlic.

While Carpenter claimed Benjamin Cole had repeatedly made passes at her before the murder, his sister insisted that it was Carpenter who was obsessed.

“How dare she?” Willie Mae Cole, 63, said Monday, glaring at the wheelchair-bound Carpenter, 59.

“How could this happen? A woman who so loved my brother, that if he could not return that love to her, she decides that he will not love anyone ever again if he could not love her.”

Carpenter declined to make a statement Monday.

However, her sister Veronica Hart took the stand to tell Hill that Carpenter was a loving aunt who gave her nieces and nephews nicknames like “Kool-Aid Face” and “Ducky” and enjoyed cooking and cracking jokes.

Koehler repeatedly insisted Carpenter had only been protecting herself in the apartment, in the 6400 block of South Stony Island.

Benjamin Cole “opened himself up to whatever would follow” when he tried to sexually assault Carpenter, the defense attorney said.

“Fifty-nine stab wounds is something he should expect.”

Carpenter, who suffers a variety of ailments, will probably die in prison, Koehler said, vowing to appeal the conviction.

Outside of court, Benjamin Cole’s family expressed satisfaction over the sentence.

“I think it’s wonderful,” Willie Mae Cole said.

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