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Witnesses saw Amanda Strous' alleged killer with blood on him, police say
The man accused of killing Dallastown native Amanda Strous in her North Carolina apartment last month was seen with blood on his legs and refused to allow witnesses inside her apartment as a fire burned inside, according to court documents.
Mathew Benner, 28, remains in Mecklenburg County's central jail, indicted on charges of murder and first-degree arson.
According to court documents obtained by The York Dispatch, a number of witnesses told investigators they heard a woman screaming inside Strous' apartment on Toscana Way in the Steele Creek area of Charlotte-Mecklenburg shortly before 5:30 p.m. June 18.
After the screaming, fire alarms started going off in the apartment building, documents state.
"Upon exiting for the fire alarm, the witnesses saw a man on the phone, sweating profusely and physically refusing to allow anyone to enter the burning apartment," according to court documents. "The male stated to witnesses that someone was injured inside of the apartment."
Bloody legs: Witnesses reported the man — later identified as Benner — ran to the third floor of the building, then ran to the parking lot and fled the scene, documents state.
"The witnesses advised that they observed blood on the legs of (Benner)," documents state.
Benner lived on the third floor in apartment 308, documents state, while Strous lived on the second floor in apartment 208.
After police and firefighters arrived, Strous was rushed to a local hospital, where she was pronounced dead, according to officials, who said her death has been ruled a homicide.
The next day, June 19, someone who has known Benner for about five years told detectives that Benner confessed to killing Strous and said he was fleeing the state, documents allege.
That person also told police that Benner went back inside his apartment before fleeing, prompting detectives to obtain a search warrant for the man's home, according to documents.
Evidence seized: Investigators seized gloves, guns, ammunition, lighters, matches, clothing, keys, tape, a notebook, a tablet, laptop computers, a receipt of some sort and a box of some kind, according to a property inventory sheet.
From Strous' apartment, detectives seized swabs, matches, lighter fluid, mobile phones, jewelry, suntan lotion, fibers, tape, a key chain and a smoke detector, according to a second property inventory sheet.
Detectives maintain the 6-foot-3, 215-pound Benner willfully and maliciously killed Strous, then intentionally torched her apartment.
Benner then fled to Nye County, Nevada, according to police.
Nye County sheriff's deputies were able to arrest Benner because Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police were tracking him using his cellphone's GPS signal, according to police. He was sleeping in his car in a hotel parking lot, officials said.
Alleged confession: The Nye County sheriff's sergeant who interviewed Benner told The York Dispatch that Benner confessed to killing Strous. Benner was extradited back to North Carolina on July 4, records state.
A grand jury in Mecklenburg County on Monday indicted Benner on charges of murder and arson, according to Charles Keller Jr., community access and outreach administrator for the trial court administrator's office in Mecklenburg County.
He has a probable-cause hearing scheduled for July 25, according to Keller. Probable-cause hearings in North Carolina are akin to Pennsylvania's preliminary hearings, where a judge hears findings and determines if enough evidence exists for a defendant to stand trial.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police have declined to discuss details of how Strous was killed, and Benner's public court documents so far haven't provided details.
College counselor: Strous worked as a counselor at Central Piedmont Community College's Harper campus for about six months, according to college spokeswoman Kathy Scott Rummage.
She graduated from Dallastown Area High School in 2007, then graduated from Shippensburg University in 2011 with a bachelor's degree in psychology and a minor in art. She earned her master's degree in mental-health counseling from Shippensburg in 2015, according to a news release on the university's website.
She played field hockey at Shippensburg from 2007 to 2010. As a senior in 2010, a season in which Shippensburg competed in the NCAA Division II national championship game, Strous served as a team captain and had a career year, totaling 11 goals and five assists, according to the university's website.
Strous and fiance Cory McCleaf planned to marry July 30, according to her loved ones.
— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.