Justice after 35 years

Nemnich describes his response to what he said was a knife-wielding person.

Those who have followed The Daily Sentinel’s coverage of Jerry Nemnich’s trial for two murders committed in Grand Junction 35 years ago may not be surprised that the Longmont man was convicted on two counts of first-degree murder for the deaths of Linda Benson and her daughter, Kelly Ketchum.

The prosecution’s DNA evidence against Nemnich was strong. It placed him in the Benson apartment, showing his blood had been spattered in at least eight locations there, including on Benson’s chest. Furthermore, Nemnich’s DNA was found under Benson’s fingernails, indicating she struggled with him as she fought for her life.

And the story Nemnich told — of meeting a stranger in a bar and driving to the Benson apartment building to obtain marijuana, of walking into the building in search of a bathroom and ending up in Benson’s apartment, of then encountering a knife-wielding stranger of unknown gender and physical description who fought with Nemnich — was patently unbelievable. It did not account for all the DNA and blood evidence in the apartment, and his story of spotting Ketchum’s body didn’t square with the lines of sight within the apartment.

No wonder the jury didn’t buy his story and convicted him of killing the young mother and her five-year-old daughter.

Even so, the fact that a murder conviction was obtained in a case more than three decades old is astonishing. Too often, in long-unsolved cases, evidence gets lost, witnesses disappear or die and authorities lose interest. There are several reasons that didn’t happen in this case.

Start with the Grand Junction police officers who handled the case originally: Detectives Jim Fromm and Doug Rushing and Lt. Ron Smith. They were no doubt frustrated by their inability to solve the case, but they were savvy enough to carefully preserve samples of the blood and tissue evidence and record where it was found in the apartment.

More than 30 years later, when retired policeman Larry Bullard and Grand Junction Police Commander Greg Assenmacher reopened the case, working with the Colorado Bureau of Investigation to re-examine the case with new DNA technology, that evidence was invaluable. It led to the 2009 identification of Nemnich as someone involved, his arrest that year and his conviction this week.

That conviction wouldn’t have occurred without the hard work, as well, of Mesa County District Attorney Pete Hautzinger, Assistant District Attorney Rich Tuttle and their investigators.

It also required the involvement of Benson’s family members, including her widower, Steven Benson, who was initially a suspect in the case himself. Then there were the two women who were raped at knife point by Nemnich in Nebraska and Pueblo more than four decades ago. They made the trip to Grand Junction and testified about Nemnich’s attacks on them.

Finally, there is the community itself, elected officials and citizens, who have supported law enforcement in their quest to find justice in this case.

When Nemnich is sentenced Nov. 8, presumably to life in prison without parole, we hope it will bring a measure of peace to the family of Linda Benson and Kelly Ketchum. And to all those involved in achieving the conviction we offer our thanks and appreciation.


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