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AP Covers Latest in Legal Fight Involving Chris Benoit

From The Associated Press

ATLANTA — A fight over the estate of pro wrestler Chris Benoit -- who killed his wife, son and then himself in June -- could soon be resolved, a lawyer for Benoit's father said Sunday.

Separately, lawyer Cary Ichter said, the league Benoit performed in, Stamford-based World Wrestling Entertainment , has balked at the idea of making a financial contribution to Benoit's two surviving children from a previous marriage.

WWE attorney Jerry McDevitt did not immediately return a call to his cell phone Sunday seeking comment.

The dispute over the estate, estimated to be worth $1.5 million to $3 million, involves a fight between the family of Benoit's slain wife, Nancy, and Benoit's father, Michael, who is acting on behalf of Benoit's other two children, who live in Canada.

Ichter told The Associated Press that he hopes to know in about a week whether the two sides will be able to resolve the dispute or if further litigation will be necessary. He declined to detail what terms are being discussed.

A central issue in the dispute is the order in which the killings occurred.

Lawyers for Benoit's mother-in-law, Maureen Toffoloni, filed a petition in August asking a court to determine the order of the deaths, which could affect whether she gets any of the estate, which includes two homes, several bank and investment accounts and other assets.

Investigators have repeatedly said that Benoit killed his wife, then their son and himself during the weekend of June 22 at their suburban Atlanta home.

District Attorney Scott Ballard has said the wrestler used a cord to strangle his wife, then killed his son with a choke hold, then placed Bibles next to the bodies and hanged himself on a piece of exercise equipment.

Under that scenario, the estate would pass to Benoit's surviving two children, according to Ichter.

But if the boy was killed first and then the wife, under Georgia law at least some of the estate would pass to Toffoloni, lawyers in the case have said.

That's because of a forfeiture statute that takes into account the fact that Benoit was the killer. As such, the law for purposes of estate distribution would consider Benoit to have died before his wife and son.

Ichter has said that if the boy was killed first, the estate would pass to the wife and, since she was killed, it would then pass to her family.

An attorney for Toffoloni, of Daytona Beach, Fla., has said he doesn't believe the order of deaths is clear, and that is why he has asked the Fayette County court to make a determination based on the law.

As for the issue of a payment from the WWE to Chris Benoit's two other children, Ichter said he and a local attorney for the league had been discussing the idea of compensation for the children. Ichter said he told the lawyer that Benoit's father might accept $2 million for the children. About a week ago, the attorney told Ichter the WWE wasn't interested in talking about it further, according to Ichter.

Ichter said his client has not decided yet whether to sue the WWE.

Investigators have not given a motive for the killings, but the question of whether steroids played a role has lingered. Anabolic steroids were found in Benoit's home, and tests showed Benoit had roughly 10 times the normal level of testosterone in his system when he died.

Some experts believe that use of testosterone can contribute to paranoia, depression and violent outbursts known as "roid rage."

Benoit's father believes years of head trauma his son suffered while in the ring contributed to the killings


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