In 2016, Jessica Devnani was dating Gregory Bender, a successful hedge fund manager who lived near Orlando, Florida. What Devnani didn’t know at the time was that Bender had been keeping a secret from her. The mystery would be revealed while he was recovering from a medical procedure at a local hospital. What happened in that room would lead to events that would change life forever.
Devnani met Bender online in 2009. He was 42 years old and Devnani was almost 20 years his junior. “He had a very charismatic personality. He was very intelligent,” said Devnani. “It felt like we’d known each other our entire lives … he became my best friend.”
As their romance developed, Devnani noted that she noticed Bender harboring a streak of jealousy that sometimes escalated into verbal threats. “I was never scared of what he might do to me, but I was scared of what he might do to other men,” she said. Despite his mistakes, she stayed with him and eventually they became engaged. Devnani tells her story exclusively in 48 Hours.reported by correspondent Peter Van Sant.
A few years after her engagement, Devnani faced a shocking turn in their relationship. Bender had undergone surgery and while he was recovering in intensive care, Devnani decided to stop by for a surprise visit. When she entered his room, another woman was there. That woman was Daymara Sanchez, his then-wife. “I asked myself, ‘What is she doing here?’ And she says, ‘What are you doing here? And I told her I was like his fiancee and I showed her the ring. And then she showed me her ring. She said, ‘I’m his wife!’” recalls Devnani.
Devnani says she was devastated by the news. “My heart just dropped. I could not believe it. I was shocked,” she said.
Several days passed before Bender finally contacted Devnani to explain the situation to him. He told her it was purely a marriage of convenience so he could help the woman’s son go to a better school district. Devnani says she took him back but gave him an ultimatum – he must divorce his wife.
However, Bender hesitated for months, and Devnani says she eventually left him. A month later, in June 2017, she met 25-year-old Patrick De La Cerda through a dating app. “I was afraid he would find out about our relationship,” Devnani said.
Devnani says Bender found out about her new relationship with De La Cerda through Facebook. She said that at this point, Bender began texting De La Cerda and threatening him. Within months, Devnani says, Bender would leave both of them alarming messages. In a voicemail for Devnani, Bender said, “I’m giving orders. And I will put my plan into action.”
Eventually, both Devnani and De La Cerda had had enough, and Devnani petitioned a judge for a restraining order against Bender. The order, issued in December 2017, said Bender could not contact Devnani and had to surrender his firearms.
The couple now looked forward to their future without the looming threat of Bender, Devnani says. In late 2017, De La Cerda proposed to Devnani. De La Cerda presented Devnani with a temporary engagement ring while he awaited the delivery of a ring he had designed.
But the day when De La Cerda would give Devnani this ring never came. On February 27, 2018, Jessica received two unexpected calls from Bender. Fearing for De La Cerda’s safety, she tried to reach him, but he didn’t answer the phone. She then rushed to De La Cerda’s house and found him dead in a pool of blood.
Shortly after the sheriff’s deputies arrived, Devnani told them about Bender. Another breakthrough in the case came when a detective received a tip from another woman in Bender’s life: Bender’s now ex-wife Daymara Sanchez, the woman Devnani says he met years ago while visiting Bender in the hospital.
Daymara, who had seen news reports of De La Cerda’s murder, told investigators about a “murder plan” she found that she says Bender wrote and laid out a plan to kill De La Cerda. “When she told us about the murder plan, it gave us everything we needed to get inside the house and see what else was inside,” said lead investigator Chad Weaver of the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office.
Once there, investigators were stunned to find one, similar to the one Sanchez described, balled up in the trash can in Bender’s home office. They also found ammunition and a cartridge case similar to cartridges found at the scene. Weaver said these discoveries gave them sufficient probable cause to obtain a warrant for Bender’s arrest for De La Cerda’s murder.
When Bender’s trial began in May 2021, Devnani and Sanchez, the two women who were once the focus of his life, faced each other again, but this time to testify against him.