Omaha homicide Detective Ryan Davis has seen a lot of brazen, brain-scratching killings in his career.
One of the first detectives to arrive to a shooting on Sept. 18, 2017, at 60th and L Streets, he didn’t take long to conclude: This was one of the dumbest.
Dead was 32-year-old U.S. Army veteran James Womack. The reason: He had dared to confront a driver who apparently cut him off just before the stoplight at 60th and L Streets.
Davis would retrieve another driver’s dash-cam video that showed the scene turn deadly in seconds. Womack descended from the cab of his semitrailer truck, walked up to a gold pickup truck, slapped his palms on the passenger window and asked the driver: “What the (expletive) are you doing?” He then turned around and walked back to his truck, almost two lanes away, and two shots pierced the air. The truck peeled away. Womack collapsed and died.
Over what? Ten seconds of road rage?
“It was definitely stupid,” Davis said Wednesday. “This guy was a working guy, he’s a dad, he’s a military veteran, and this is how he dies? Senseless, just completely senseless.”
A Douglas County jury made quick sense of the detailed casepresented by prosecutors Amy Jacobsen and Ryan Lindberg and put together by Davis and his fellow detectives — Larry Cahill, Derek Mois, Nick Herfordt and Oscar Dieguez.
After a six-day trial, jurors deliberated just three hours before finding Michael P. Benson, 26, guilty of second-degree murder, two weapons charges and two witness-tampering charges. Benson will be sentenced in May. He faces 28 years to life in prison.
“Thank you, Jesus,” James’ mother, Barbara Womack of New York City, called out as she left the courtroom. “That’s the best news in years.”
Womack’s wife, Ivonne, batted away tears. The couple, natives of Queens, New York, had bounced around the country as Womack served in the U.S. Army. He survived three tours in Iraq. After he retired from the Army, a good friend told him that he and Ivonne ought to move their family to Omaha. The pace was slow. The schools solid. The city safe and quiet.
“We said, ‘Why not?’ ” Ivonne Womack said. “ ‘We have nothing to lose.’ ”
James Womack, an outgoing, physically fit man, got a job driving a semitrailer truck for Hill Bros. That Monday morning, the couple had taken their two daughters and one son, all under 10, for a birthday party to celebrate their middle daughter’s birthday. It was a day off from school, so they had breakfast at a restaurant, then hung out at home until Womack’s afternoon shift.
“He was family-first, lovable, outgoing, funny,” Ivonne said. “He was exceptional. A little bit of everything.”
Now, she says, she has to handle almost every question as her children try to process their dad’s death.
“They always question, ‘Why did this happen to Daddy? Who would do this to him?’ ”
Ivonne’s response: “There’s bad people out there who don’t have respect for life.”
And who have easy access to guns, she noted. Benson, despite a felony conviction, had managed to get his hands on a pistol with uncommon ammunition — 5.7 by 28 mm. That unusual ammunition was found in the back of his pickup truck — and was just one of many pieces of evidence that Omaha police homicide detectives pieced together to solve the case.
“It seems like anyone can have a gun hiding — it’s just ridiculous,” Ivonne Womack said. “It makes no sense that people feel so comfortable to carry a gun and if something happens, it’s OK — just shoot.”
Womack said she and her children have been through a year of therapy — which, she says, has helped tremendously. She said she’s not going to let the brazen killing drive her out of this city.
“This is the place that we chose to raise our family,” Womack said. “That was our dream. And I don’t want to change anything.”