Nemnich jury finishes for the day; returns Wednesday for further deliberations

District Attorney Pete Hautzinger makes closing arguments in the first-degree murder trial of Jerry Nemnich on Monday.

Jerry Nemnich peers around the courtroom Monday during his first-degree murder trial.

UPDATE: 5:20 P.M. Tuesday — Nemnich jury retires for the day

The jury in Jerry Nemnich’s double-murder trial left the Mesa County Justice Center shortly after 5 p.m. Tuesday without a verdict following roughly eight hours of deliberation.

The jury received the case around 4:30 p.m. Monday, and started up around 9 a.m. today, working through the lunch hour.

Nemnich, 65, is charged with two counts of first-degree murder, and two counts of felony murder, in the July 1975 killings of Linda Benson, 24, and her daughter, Kelley Ketchum, 5, at unit 211 of Chateau Apartments, 1300 N. 21st St. The bodies were discovered the evening of July 25, 1975, by Benson’s common-law husband, Steven.

Prosecutors have alleged Nemnich’s blood was confirmed in full or partial matches in eight separate locations inside Benson’s apartment.

Testifying in his defense, Nemnich told the jury he bled heavily in the apartment after he claimed he was assaulted by an unknown person with a knife the night of July 24, 1975, before stumbling upon a double-murder scene.

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Referencing space aliens and supernatural powers, District Attorney Pete Hautzinger spent a good portion of closing arguments Monday in Jerry Nemnich’s murder trial mocking Nemnich’s surprise testimony.

“He’s had 35 years to come up with a story to explain the evidence, and he gave it his best shot,” Hautzinger told the jury. “He has stones. He’s got a fair amount of guts to try and sell you that story.”

Jurors received the case around 4:30 p.m. Monday after hearing more than four hours of closing arguments. Nemnich has pleaded not guilty on two counts of first-degree murder, and two counts of felony murder, in the death of Linda Benson, 24, and her daughter, Kelley Ketchum, 5.

Nemnich, 65, testified Friday he was assaulted by an unknown person with a knife inside Linda Benson’s apartment before wrestling the weapon away from the assailant and dumping it in the kitchen sink. At that point, he claimed he discovered the bodies of Ketchum and Benson, then fled and told nobody because he feared he’d be implicated.

The incident the night of July 24, 1975, happened after Nemnich said he met a man at a North Avenue bar, whom Nemnich agreed to drive to Chateau Apartments, 1300 N. 21st St., in order to get marijuana.

Nemnich at one point referred to the assailant as a man, but later testified he didn’t recall if it was a man or woman. Nemnich also said he couldn’t recall much about the man he drove to the apartment.

“This man, woman, mystery space alien with a knife, we have no description on,” Hautzinger told the jury. “All the things (Nemnich) was not specific about are things that law enforcement could follow up on, or disprove.”

The DA showed a video of the apartment’s interior,  suggesting Nemnich couldn’t have seen Kelley’s body, given Nemnich’s own account.

Nemnich said he noticed Kelley’s body while he was standing in the apartment’s kitchen area, but Hautzinger argued the view of the girl’s body near a hallway and bathroom would have been blocked by walls.

Prosecutors have alleged Nemnich’s DNA profile was matched in eight locations inside the apartment.

“Why is the defendant’s DNA underneath (Linda Benson’s) fingernails?” Hautzinger asked jurors.

“He’s lucky he got away with murder for 35 years,” Hautzinger said. “His luck ends today.”

Under Hautzinger’s theory of the case, Nemnich scaled a cooling unit outside the Benson apartment and climbed on the back porch, where he entered the apartment through a sliding glass door and attempted to rape Benson. He repeatedly stabbed her and did the same to Kelley, the only potential witness.

“Linda Benson fought back and that’s what got her killed,” Hautzinger said.

Nemnich’s defense has repeatedly attacked the quality of 35-year-old evidence, while highlighting the presence of an unknown male, whose blood was found on a kitchen wall at Benson’s apartment.

The mere presence of Nemnich’s blood isn’t proof of a double murder, public defender Daniel King told jurors.

“There’s another man in that apartment,” King said.

Moreover, the Benson-Ketchum murders are inconsistent with Nemnich’s past crimes in 1960 and 1968, both knife-point rapes of women, which involved mere threats of violence, King said.

“Both happened in the daytime,” King said of Nemnich’s prior assaults. “Jerry Nemnich isn’t creeping around people’s houses at night because he doesn’t want to bump into the man of the house.”

King also defended Nemnich’s account to the jury from Friday.

“If that’s the best story he can come up with after 35 years, Mr. Nemnich isn’t as a smart as the prosecution seems to think he is,” King said.

The jury is expected to continue with deliberations this morning.


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