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Convicted sex offender admits to helping kill pregnant woman, then setting body on fire

Shannon Michael Benson (Hennepin County Sheriff's Office)

Shannon Michael Benson (Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office)

A 43-year-old man in Minnesota this week admitted to killing a 28-year-old pregnant woman and then setting her body on fire inside an abandoned trailer over a year ago.

Shannon Michael Benson on Tuesday pleaded guilty to two counts of second-degree murder with intent – not premeditated in the November 2021 slayings of Annysa M. Zierhut and her unborn child, court documents reviewed by Law&Crime show.

According to the terms of the plea deal, prosecutors agreed that Benson would be sentenced to 346 months — just under 29 years — for each count.

Zierhut’s body was discovered inside a burning trailer in a Minneapolis intersection on Nov. 8, 2021. Zierhut was seven months pregnant and had been reported missing about a week earlier.

Witnesses told investigators that a woman driving a black Chevrolet Tahoe with the trailer attached had been seen in the area before the fire. The vehicles were traced to Benson and his alleged accomplice, Jade Monet Rissell.

Rissell admitted to lighting the trailer on fire to cover up Zierhut’s body, officials said.

Rissell said that about a week before the fire, she had lured Zierhut over Facebook to her and Benson’s trailer and assaulted her with brass knuckles, knocking her unconscious, police wrote in an affidavit.

She said they left Zierhut in the trailer for a few days, then she took the trailer to an intersection to burn it, the document states.

Rissell admitted that Zierhut was in a coma and continued breathing for three days before ultimately succumbing to her injuries, according to court documents.

Prosecutors say Benson had lured Zierhut to the trailer by offering her drugs.

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After Rissell’s police interview, investigators intentionally left her and Benson in a room while recording them.

Rissell told Benson that the police “have too much information,” and she “told them it was me,” the affidavit states.

The two then started to cry.

Later, Rissell allegedly asked Benson to make a bad joke. He responded, “at least it’s not a sex crime.” Rissell said, “I’m going in for murder. “Me too,” Benson replied, according to the document.

Benson is registered as a predatory sex offender with the state, according to a report from the Star Tribune.

He had reportedly been convicted three times in the 1990s for sexual assault and once for assault after beating and threatening to kill his then-wife.

Rissell has pleaded not guilty, online court records show.

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Jerry Lambe is a journalist at Law&Crime. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and New York Law School and previously worked in financial securities compliance and Civil Rights employment law.