‘An unspeakable orgy of violence’ — Aurora hammer murderer gets 3 life sentences for 1984 killings

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CENTENNIAL | An Arapahoe County District Court Judge on Tuesday sentenced 61-year-old Alex Ewing to three consecutive life sentences for the brutal murders of three members of an Aurora family nearly 40 years ago.

Judge Darren Vahle told Ewing, who appeared in court wearing maroon, jail-issued scrubs and shackled by a belly chain, that the crimes for which he was convicted earlier this month are the most depraved he has seen in a quarter century of practicing criminal law.

“Over a 12-day span, you inflicted an unspeakable orgy of violence,” he said. “ … Your actions — and by imputation you in 1984 — are an abomination.”

After two days of deliberation, jurors on Aug. 6 returned guilty verdicts against Ewing on six separate murder counts for the killings of 27-year-old Bruce, 26-year-old Debra and 7-year-old Melissa Bennett in January 1984. Authorities determined the Bennetts were bludgeoned to death with a claw hammer and that Melissa Bennett had been raped.

Under the constitutional rules of double jeopardy, Vahle vacated three of the murder verdicts Tuesday, but ultimately imposed the punishment prosecutors had long sought: three distinct life sentences running back to back to back.

Several members of the Bennett family read statements to the court at the roughly 45-minute-long hearing, including Bruce Bennett’s 87-year-old mother, Connie Bennett, and now 41-year-old Vanessa Bennett Schulz, who was severely injured as a 3-year-old in the same attack that killed her parents and sister.

“I’m sure my parents and sister were great people, but it’s unfortunate I don’t remember anything about them,” said Bennett Schulz, who now lives in Arizona.

Through tears, Bennett Schulz lamented the effects the attack has had on her life, including post-traumatic stress disorder, difficulty sleeping, bouts of anger and decades of drug use.

“I didn’t just lose my parents and sister, I lost my trust in people,” she said. “I lost my dignity and pride. I lost the person who I was supposed to be.”

In her statement, Connie Bennett asked the court for the maximum sentenced allowed under state law.

“Some people may call him an animal,” she said of Ewing. “But I won’t because I think animals have a purpose in this world.”

Following the gradual improvement of forensic testing, authorities used DNA preserved from the Bennett home to accuse Ewing of the murders in 2018.

“It was so long that we didn’t even know who it was, and then finally to find out through DNA — it’s a marvelous thing,” Connie Bennett said after the hearing Tuesday. “ … It’s not closure. We still have to deal with it, but we’ve learned to live with it and accept that it has happened. And we just do the best we can to enjoy life as much as possible.”

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.

Prosecutors referenced several similar attacks in Colorado around the time the Bennetts were killed in which a person entered homes through open garage doors, beat occupants with a blunt object and raped women.

The statute of limitations prevents attorneys from pursuing charges in many of those cases, though Ewing has since been accused of murdering 50-year-old Patricia Smith in Lakewood a week before the Bennetts were found dead. Smith was found beaten, raped and covered in a “Winnie The Pooh” blanket in her home on Jan. 10, 1984.

Ewing 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.

Ewing declined to address the court at the hearing Tuesday afternoon. His public defense attorneys indicated they plan to file an appeal on his behalf in the coming weeks.

Because Ewing was sentenced under the state murder statute as it was written in 1984, he could technically be eligible for parole in 20 years, according to a spokesperson for the district attorney’s office, although it’s unclear if that eligibility will begin in two decades or after the totality of his combined sentence in 60 years.

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