Jurors signal they’re at an impasse in 1984 Aurora hammer murder case

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    AURORA | The question of whether 60-year-old Alex Ewing murdered three members of an Aurora family nearly four decades ago is now in the hands of 12 Arapahoe County jurors, though the panel of residents said they reached an impasse in their discussions after about three and a half hours.

    Jurors penned a comment to the court at about 3:35 p.m. stating: “We are at an impasse with virtually no possibility for agreement.” The group began deliberating at about 12:15 p.m.

    Judge Darren Vahle provided the jury of six men and six women with additional instructions before sending them home at about 4:15 p.m. Thursday and instructing them to return for further deliberation at 8:30 a.m. Friday.

    “You are not advocates,” Vahle said from the bench. “You are judges of the facts. Your sole interest is to ascertain the truth from the evidence in the case.”

    Vahle denied the defense’s request for a mistrial after the jury foreperson alerted the court to the stall in the discussions.

    Defense attorneys and prosecutors on Thursday morning made closing arguments in the murder trial in which Ewing is accused of using a claw hammer to bludgeon to death 27-year-old Bruce, 26-year-old Debra and 7-year-old Melissa Bennett in January 1984.

    As he did in his opening argument last week, Ewing’s defense attorney, Stephen McCrohan, characterized the Aurora Police Department’s initial investigation into the killings as shoddy, saying several items likely touched by the perpetrator were never tested for DNA, including a knife and a purse found in the front lawn of the Bennett home on Center Drive.

    “Alex Ewing is not guilty,” he told jurors shortly before 11 a.m. Aug. 5. “Simple is what the government needs you to believe.”

    He further lambasted how police handled evidence in the local department’s property section. Some of the Bennetts’ blood-soaked bedding and clothing was allowed to dry in a storage area with a smattering of evidence from other cases for about a day before it was formally processed. The drying process was carried out so the fabric wouldn’t become moldy, retired investigators testified.

    District Attorney John Kellner and Chief Deputy District Attorney Garrik Storgaard spent much of their final statement highlighting 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. “ … You cannot outrun the march of science, the march of progress.”

    Following decades of repeated testing as methods improved, Colorado law enforcement officials used updated DNA analysis to accuse Ewing of the crime in 2018.

    Citing statistics compiled from the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, Kellner said the chance of the sperm found on the comforter laid atop Melissa not belonging to Ewing is one in 13 nonillion — a number accompanied by 30 zeros.

    “He brutally murdered Bruce Bennett, crushing his skull,” Kellner said. “He brutally attacked and murdered Debra Bennett, crushing her skull. And he raped and murdered a 7-year-old child.”

    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.”

    Over the course of eight days, jurors heard lengthy testimony from a bevy of Aurora police detectives, Colorado Bureau of Investigation experts and the mother of Bruce Bennett, who found her son’s mangled body at the base of his home’s staircase.

    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. Ewing was in court in Colorado when the hearing took place at 8:45 a.m. last week.

    His parole hearing will likely be rescheduled for October, according to the representative from the Nevada parole board.

    If his bid for parole is denied, he could have to wait up to three more years for another hearing.

    His mandatory release date in Nevada is in 2037.

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    Joe Felice
    Joe Felice
    5 months ago

    Wow! Really? I thought this was a slam dunk. So then Jeffco gets to try its hand at him? What about the other case in Aurora about the same time, near First Ave. and the High Line Canal?