Tammy Lynn Benge Cassel often beaten, friends and family say
On the fingers of his left hand, Michael Whisnant has tattooed lettering that spells out L-O-V-E.
It was for his girlfriend, Tammy Lynn Benge Cassel, said Whisnant's father, Richard.
“He loved her,” he said.
But Cassel would not leave Michael Whisnant alone, and that drove him to kill her at the house at 810 Wild Cherry Place he shared with his mother, Richard Whisnant said. Now Michael Whisnant is charged with first-degree murder.
“She was not supposed to be over there at all,” he said. “She’d come, and he could not leave because he was under house arrest. She would not let him alone because of the drugs. He was on dope, he did not know what he was doing. She said she wanted to die and wanted Michael to die with her. I don’t think he should be charged.”
Cassel's family and friends say Whisnant physically abused her over the years. Court records show that one such incident on Aug. 21, 2011, resulted in Whisnant's arrest on a charge of assault inflicting serious injury. That case still has not gone to trial, and he was under house arrest for violating the conditions of his release from jail.
“I knew he was beating her, that he was going to kill her,” said Rusty Jones, her half-brother. “She kept saying she wasn’t going to go back. Everyone in our family told her not to.”
Curtis Banner saw Cassel two weeks ago.
“She always had a black eye or a busted lip,” he said. “She was a nice person. I hate to hear that happened to her. It’s sad.”
Two months ago, Carol Wood bumped into Cassel, a former neighbor, at the convenience store below her house and gasped in horror at the sight of Cassel’s swollen face. Her jaw was wired shut.
“She said Michael did it,” Wood said.
“Tammy was kind of messed up on pills,” said Dorothy Wilcox, another former neighbor. “She just got messed up. ... Tammy tried so hard to do right. She was just a precious girl.”
According to an affadavit for a search warrant filed with the clerk’s office, on Friday just before midnight Deputy C.J. Bentley of the Caldwell County Sheriff’s Office received a call from someone who said Michael Whisnant had just told him on the phone that he “was drunk and he had killed Tammy Cassel.” Bentley called Lenoir police, and officers went to the house and rushed inside to find Whisnant, 36, on the bed in the front right bedroom. Cassel, 38, lay dead in a back room adjacent to the kitchen, rolled up in a comfortor.
Police have not released how Cassel was killed, but the search warrant filed with the clerk’s office says that among items removed from the house were two hammers, along with swabs of red stains, two comforters and items of clothing.
Whisnant is scheduled for a court hearing April 29.