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MISSOULA - A federal judge says a convicted drug dealer, charged with murdering three women at a Florence hair salon, is not eligible for the death penalty.

Defendant Lincoln Benavides denies killing the women - Brenda Patch, Cynthia Paulus and Dorothy Harris. Their throats were slit on Nov. 6, 2001 at the Hair Gallery in Florence, owned by Harris.

In an order signed Monday, U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy agreed with defense lawyers who said a grand jury indictment does not accuse 33-year-old Benavides of personally and directly killing the victims.

A co-defendant, 31-year-old Brian Weber, remains eligible for capital punishment. He also has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Prosecutors allege the murders were related to a drug ring run by Benavides.

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