Ex-suspect testifies in murder trial

Husband was first to see wife's, stepdaughter's bodies

Jerry Nemnich

Steve Benson sold his extensive collection of handguns and antique rifles in the months after July 25, 1975.

They reminded him of death, he said.

There was a second reason, the former common-law husband of slain 24-year-old Linda Benson testified Friday during the double-murder trial of 65-year-old Jerry Nemnich.

“If I could have found the person who did this, I would have been hard to deal with,” Benson told jurors.

Four years removed from his second of two tours with the U.S. Army in Vietnam, Steve Benson testified he knew something was wrong around 8 p.m. on that day in July after scaling his apartment balcony to find the sliding-glass door cracked open, and a familiar smell inside.

“I knew the smell of death,” he testified.

“I freaked out,” Benson said, fighting back tears at one point during his testimony.

Benson would remain under suspicion for the crime he discovered.

Linda Benson’s naked body was found in the master bedroom, Forensic Pathologist Dr. Thomas Canfield testified Friday. She suffered two puncture stab wounds to her chest, in addition to a pair of puncture wounds to her back, he said. A crooked, cross-shaped, slashing pattern was found on her chest as well as three slashes to her neck, just missing her carotid artery, Canfield testified.

“The knife was twisted while cuts were being made on her neck,” Canfield said.

Several fingers on her left hand had slash-type wounds, consistent with a struggle with her assailant, Canfield said. Impressions consistent with fingernails were found in several areas along her throat, he said.

Down the hallway, 5-year-old Kelley Ketchum, Linda Benson’s daughter, was found on the floor with what were later determined to be “eight to nine” stab wounds to the left side of her chest. An autopsy showed evidence of fresh bruises around the girl’s mouth and cheeks.

Both mother and daughter bled to death within minutes of receiving multiple stab wounds that punctured their hearts, Canfield testified.

Nemnich showed little reaction while staring at a series of graphic autopsy photos during Canfield’s testimony. He occasionally looked away to write on a legal pad.

Canfield testified he found no obvious, outward signs that Linda Benson had been sexually assaulted, but he added he couldn’t rule out the possibility. And while Canfield said he believes wounds to Linda Benson’s front side were caused by a single-edged knife, the wounds on her back could have been from a second knife.

‘Regrettably incinerated’

On cross examination, Canfield acknowledged his testimony Friday came largely from memory of 35-year-old autopsies and a summary report completed by a Grand Junction police detective who sat in on the Benson and Ketchum autopsies. In September 1995, Canfield said, he received a letter from administrators at Montrose Memorial Hospital, explaining “hundreds” of final autopsy reports had been “regrettably incinerated” during a remodel project.

Detailed reports, covering all of Canfield’s cases from 1972 to 1984, were gone. Destroyed along with them were critical facts in the murders of Linda Benson and Kelley Ketchum.

“That was my book, my life’s work,” Canfield said of his case files. “It’s embarrassing.”

‘Cooperated with everyone’

Steve Benson, now 63, said he ultimately left Grand Junction, still stung by suspicions and reeling from the murders. He went to Wyoming and eventually New Mexico, where he now farms and raises livestock.

Benson provided detectives a sample of his DNA after Nemnich’s arrest in the case in April 2009.

“I have always cooperated with everyone,” Benson said, when asked by District Attorney Pete Hautzinger to describe the battery of interviews he was subjected to in the weeks after the murders.

“It wasn’t frustrating, but if you’re (police) asking a bunch of questions to me ... I wanted the police to ask the person that did this,” he said.

Benson testified he didn’t recognize Nemnich’s name, or that of Nemnich’s former girlfriend in Grand Junction. When showed an old prison booking photo of Nemnich from the 1970s before the trial, Benson said he drew another blank.

Benson crossed his arms on the witness stand, appeared to gaze at Nemnich and answered Hautzinger in a loud, angered voice when asked if he recognized the defendant on Friday.

“I’d certainly remember it today,” he said.


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