AURORA | After numerous false leads, decades of genetic testing and the brief threat of a legal stalemate, Arapahoe County jurors on Friday found 60-year-old Alex Ewing guilty of using a claw hammer to bludgeon three members of an Aurora family to death more than 37 years ago.
District Court Judge Darren Vahle read the verdict forms at 2:43 p.m. Aug. 6, rendering six separate convictions against Ewing for the deaths of 27-year-old Bruce, 26-year-old Debra and 7-year-old Melissa Bennett in January 1984.
“It’s just like a weight’s been lifted off,” said 87-year-old Connie Bennett, who was the first person to find the bloodied body of her son, Bruce, at the base of his home’s staircase. “… It’s a great day today. I think it’ll make a difference in our lives and our family.”
The verdicts came after about nine hours of jury deliberation over the course of two days.
Vahle read the panel of six men and six women a modified jury instruction late in the afternoon Thursday after the foreperson issued the judge a comment saying: “We are at an impasse with virtually no possibility for agreement.”
Jurors returned to the courthouse at 8:30 a.m. Friday and returned their guilty verdicts about five and a half hours later.
Vahle denied multiple motions made by the defense for a mistrial.
Dressed in a slate-colored dress shirt, Ewing showed no visible emotion standing beside his attorneys at the defense table as Vahle read the verdicts.
The convictions announced Friday tie up decades of forensic testing from the clothing, bedding and carpet of the Bennett home, the results of which eventually led investigators to accuse Ewing, a plumber who was living about two blocks from the Bennett family in 1984, of the killings in 2018.
District Attorney John Kellner first began leafing through the case as a cold case prosecutor in the jurisdiction in 2013.
“When we first looked at it we thought that it was likely the the killer was long gone,” he told reporters outside of courtroom 201 Friday. “And we didn’t have much hope then. But science and progress keep marching on, and ultimately we found this guy.”
Kellner, a Republican who was elected to oversee the state’s largest judicial district last November, said the deaths forever altered Aurorans’ sense of safety.
“I think about a community in Aurora that at the time felt comfortable leaving their doors unlocked — at the time felt comfortable going to sleep at night with the garage open,” he said. “And this brutal murder changed all of that for so many people in our community.”
For the past two weeks of trial, Ewing’s defense attorneys attempted to poke holes in how Aurora police initially investigated the crime scene, highlighting that authorities left their own palm prints on window sills, used the home’s bathroom and television while standing sentry at the property and at one point led a tour of academy recruits through the house.
Kellner and Chief Deputy District Attorney Garrik Storgaard spent much of their final statement on Thursday underscoring the DNA evidence that eventually linked Ewing to the crime. Sperm that matched Ewing’s genetic profile was found on a piece of carpet that was taken from beneath Melissa Bennett’s mutilated body and a comforter that was laid on top of her. The younger Bennett had been raped, and she was found naked from the waist down.
“This defendant didn’t just accidentally deposit his sperm on a raped 7-year-old girl,” Storgaard said.
Jurors cited burglary and sexual assault on a child as the underlying factors that led to the the felony murder convictions returned against Ewing.
Another member of the Bennett family, 3-year-old Vanessa, survived the attack despite suffering multiple serious injuries. The right side of her face was bludgeoned with an object like her parents and sister, and she also sustained sexual trauma, according to court documents. She was found beside a teddy bear that was flecked with fragments of her shattered teeth, prosecutors said.
Vanessa Bennett briefly testified at the beginning of the trial, saying she had no memory of the attack.
Prosecutors repeatedly mentioned another murder in which Ewing has been charged as the suspect that occurred in Lakewood a week before the Bennett killings.
Kellner outlined the similarities between the Bennett’s deaths and the murder of 50-year-old Patricia Smith, who was found beaten, raped and covered in a “Winnie The Pooh” blanket in her home on Jan. 10, 1984.
“Everything lines up,” Kellner said. “And there’s a reason for that. It’s because he’s guilty.”
Ewing had been incarcerated in Nevada since the summer of 1984 after he escaped there while being transported to Kingman, Arizona, from St. George, Utah, for a court appearance on attempted murder and burglary charges. While on the lam, he severely beat a woman and her husband with an ax handle in their bedroom near Henderson, Nevada, according to court records.
Ewing fought extradition to Colorado, but he was eventually transferred to the Arapahoe County Detention Center to face charges in the state in early 2020.
He is set to stand for a nearly three-week jury trial in Jefferson County on his murder charge there beginning Oct. 18, according to state court dockets.
He is currently in the custody of Arapahoe County sheriff’s deputies.
A representative from the Nevada Parole Board confirmed to The Sentinel this week that Ewing technically became eligible for parole on his last two remaining counts in that state — attempted murder with the sentence enhancer of using a deadly weapon — on July 1. He was scheduled for a hearing before the parole board of commissioners on July 27, though his appearance was postponed as the entity was unable to set up a time to speak with him.
His mandatory release date in Nevada is in 2037.
Ewing is scheduled to be sentenced for his new murder convictions in Arapahoe County at 1:30 p.m. on Aug. 17. He will be sentenced under guidelines from 1984, which stipulate he will be eligible for parole in 20 years.
Current Colorado law does not allow for any parole eligibility at all when a first-degree murder conviction is returned.