In 2008 Ben and Melissa Lightsey attended the wedding reception of Ryan Leber at the A1A Aleworks in St. Augustine, Florida. St. Augustine is on the coast just southeast of Jacksonville. I don’t know what the heck they were serving at the reception but there was more than one instance of violence at the wedding.
From what I’ve been able to gather Benjamin Colenn and Melissa Lee Lightsey live in Saint Augustine which is just north of St. Augustine and where the murder occurred. They have two children.
During the reception there was allegedly quite a bit of drinking and Ben and Melissa got into an argument. According to some witnesses he violently dragged her out of the reception and that’s the last anyone saw of Melissa Lightsey until her body was discovered in the St Augustine Inlet the next afternoon.
According to Ben Lightsey they went to Surfside Park at Vilano Beach and Melissa, who loved the beach, went swimming and after getting into chest deep water, disappeared. Ben claims to have searched for a while by himself, then went to a relative’s house and returned to resume the search for his wife. It was six hours before he reported Melissa missing to the police. One thing about the story that doesn’t make sense, according to Jim Bryan, is that although Melissa loved the beach, she didn’t like going into the water any more than ankle deep. She felt like it was just too cold.
Another version I have read states that Ben dragged her out of the women’s restroom by her hair, they left and drove up the coast, stopping at a relative’s condominium, then going on to the beach. According to this version Lightsey begged her not to go into the ocean and then he passed out. After waking up he called a relative rather than the police. When 911 was finally called it was Glenn Lightsey who made the call, not Ben.
Her body was found around 3pm on November 9th in the St. Augustine Inlet by a boater. After an autopsy, the medical examiner ruled that Melissa Lightsey died from trauma to the head, face, and neck. In other words, she was beaten to death before being unceremoniously dumped in the ocean and Ben lied to police.
After the autopsy Ben allowed Melissa Lee Lightsey to be cremated. According to Melissa’s parents’ cremation was what she wished, along with being scattered across the water or coast. Jim Bryan said that the request seemed like something his daughter would have wanted and that he feels that since the autopsy was so extensive there should be no reason to re-examine the body.
Benjamin Lightsey turned himself in to the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office around 10am on Tuesday the 18th. Police had shown up at his house to arrest him before dawn the same day, but he wasn’t at home.
Prior to the arrest detectives impounded three vehicles and served several search warrants before getting the arrest warrant for Lightsey on Monday afternoon on the charge of Murder I. The St Johns County Sheriff David Shoar said that they wanted to make sure that they ‘got it right’ which is why it took police more than a week to arrest him. Considering that Ben’s father Glenn Lightsey is a former sergeant with the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office who also ran for sheriff in 2004 I’m sure they wanted to have an airtight case prior to picking up the alleged murderer.
Benjamin Lightsey had a bond hearing on Wednesday morning and the judge has denied bond. After the initial bond hearing a custody hearing was also held the same day and Judge Clyde Wolfe ruled that Sunny Lee and Zane would remain in the care of Glenn and Vivian Lightsey, Ben’s parents. He correctly ruled that the criminal accusations against Ben Lightsey had nothing whatsoever to do with the custody dispute and that just because Ben Lightsey has been accused of murder doesn’t mean that the paternal grandparents shouldn’t be given custody. Jim and Melinda Bryan, Melissa’s parents, are understandably upset about the custody hearing as well as the murder of their daughter.
Jim Bryan, Melissa’s stepfather said “I hate to say it, but I suspected him all along. The story just didn’t jive with what did happen. What can you think? He was the last person to see her alive”.
Jim also believes that Melissa told her husband that she was finished with their relationship the night she was killed. She had allegedly told a couple of her friends that she was ready to leave him and was going to give him an ultimatum.
Ben Lightsey’s criminal attorney Patrick Canan says that his client is going to plead not guilty to the murder charges.
From some other sources I’ve read Ben was an extremely jealous husband and broke her cellphone and refused to allow her to work because he was afraid men would talk to her. Although Melissa was going to school to teach, she had always waited tables and knew it to be a reliable source of cash.
One of Benjamin Lightsey’s former girlfriends has come forward and spoken with reporters that she had good reasons to be frightened of Ben while they were in a relationship. Katie Reynolds dated Lightsey for about a year in 2003 and during that time he would sit outside the shower waiting on her to come out, making sure she wasn’t leaving, he would drag her through the house by the hair and when she would threaten to leave, he would hold a knife to her throat or his own wrist.
The owner of the restaurant where Reynolds worked said that she saw it as well. He once threw her out of car and sped out throwing gravel all over her. Reynolds would come to work with bruises and once he even showed up and made an ass out of himself in the bar of the restaurant. Lightsey allegedly threatened them as well as other people in the restaurant.
St. Johns County Sheriff’s investigators are still interested in speaking with anyone that can give them any related information, particularly anyone who saw Ben or Melissa Lightsey the evening of November 8th. You can reach the sheriff’s office at 904-824-8304
Update – The St. Johns County grand jury met in secret on Monday morning and handed down an indictment in the death of Melissa Lightsey. According to the indictment Melissa died from oxygen deprivation and/or blunt force trauma. According to a sheriff’s spokesman that means ‘beaten and strangled’.
Also, according to the arrest warrant one of the initial things that Ben did after killing his wife was to drive to his father’s house and changed clothes. Then the two of them drove back to the beach.
His attorney, Patrick Canan, said that most likely he will ask for a change of venue due to his client’s well-known name in the community.
Update II – I mentioned above that Benjamin Lightsey had entered a plea of ‘Not Guilty’ earlier today. There are a couple of pieces of evidence that the sheriff’s department let out that helped lead to the decision of the grand jury. One is that Ben Lightsey’s right hand was swollen near his knuckles, there was blood found in his truck (but they have not yet determined or released who it belongs to) and there was a notebook which contained a two-page log that detailed the account he gave police of Melissa Lightsey’s disappearance. Practicing his lines perhaps?
I have also included the 911 call below that I mentioned above. It’s very weird. Glenn Lightsey made the call and of course as a former law enforcement officer he was very professional and courteous, but not once did he mention Melissa as his daughter or daughter-in-law.
Ben Lightsey decided to finally quit lying and pleaded guilty to the beating and strangling of 36-year-old Melissa Lightsey in a 121-page confession. According to the confession he hit his wife and then choked her and when he realized what he had done he took her to the beach and dumped the body of his wife in the water. One of the last things in the confession says “I love my wife, and I always will, and I know she still loves me, no matter what. That’s it”. Hell of a way to show your love.
He also said that he never told his father what he had done. Under the deal reached with prosecutors in February 2009 Ben Lightsey will receive 25 years in prison.
Lightsey, or inmate No. 131133, is serving out his sentence at Calhoun Correctional Institution in Blountstown, about 50 miles west of Tallahassee. According to the Florida Department of Corrections, he was being held in “close custody,” the most serious level at the prison. He is scheduled to be released on Aug. 14, 2033. He will be 55.