Murder suspect says he stumbled on murder scene, was cut by armed stranger
Faced with overwhelming evidence his blood was at the crime scene of a double murder, Jerry Nemnich told a jury Friday he was assaulted by an unknown person with a knife inside Linda Benson’s apartment in 1975 and stumbled upon two murder victims. He said he didn’t report it out of fear police would implicate him.
The incident the night of July 24, 1975, inside unit 211 at Chateau Apartments, 1300 N 21st. St., was the bizarre outcome of a late-night bid to get marijuana from a stranger, the 65-year-old Nemnich told a hushed courtroom Friday during the seventh day of testimony in his murder trial.
Assistant District Attorney Rich Tuttle attacked Nemnich’s account, suggesting it was fiction tailored to fit evidence Nemnich already heard during the trial.
“This guy had a knife and hit my hand,” Nemnich said on direct questioning, explaining he’d raised his hands in defense.
Nemnich claimed the alleged attacker slashed him on his left fingers, as the two were just inside Benson’s apartment. Cut badly, Nemnich said he wrestled the weapon away, and the suspect fled.
Nemnich said he dropped the knife in the apartment’s sink and only then noticed the body of Kelley Ketchum down the hallway, and further down, Benson’s body, before fleeing and telling nobody.
On cross examination by Tuttle, Nemnich later said he couldn’t recall if the attacker was a man or woman, only that the suspect had shoulder-length hair. Nemnich also said it was possible the attacker was the man he’d given a ride to that evening, a stranger who suggested he could get marijuana for the two of them.
Nemnich’s testimony Friday highlighted a shortened day of witnesses as the prosecution rested its case, capping a week’s worth of evidence in Nemnich’s trial. He is charged with two counts of first-degree murder, and two counts of felony murder, in the slayings of Linda Benson, 24, and her daughter, Kelley, 5.
Nemnich’s defense is expected to present more witnesses Monday in District Judge Brian Flynn’s courtroom.
POT RUN WITH MYSTERY MAN
In a low, raspy voice with little change in tone, Nemnich said he went to a bar on North Avenue the evening of July 24, 1975, for a few beers. After having “two or three,” he said he was approached by a man who suggested he could get pot for the both of them at a local apartment. Nemnich said he couldn’t recall a name.
Nemnich said he agreed to go with the man and drove him to Chateau Apartments, where Nemnich said he parked on the north side of the building as the man went inside. He said they left the bar around 11:30 p.m.
Nemnich testified he waited in the car roughly 15 minutes, or enough time to smoke cigarettes, before he said he got out of the car because he needed to use a bathroom. He said he walked inside the complex, using an entrance adjacent to the Benson apartment.
Nemnich said he didn’t know which unit the man was visiting in the complex, how long he planned to be, and there were no plans to take the man home after he’d obtained the marijuana.
“Why not urinate behind the building?” Tuttle asked during cross examination.
“It wasn’t that urgent,” Nemnich responded.
Walking up stairs, Nemnich said he noticed the door open at one apartment unit, Benson’s, where he heard voices inside. Nemnich later said he couldn’t distinguish between the number of voices, or if they were distressed. He said he walked inside.
At that point, he said, an attacker approached with a knife. Nemnich said he only saw the alleged assailant when the person was within roughly one yard of him. He offered little by way of description on the alleged attacker during testimony Thursday.
“It could have been a woman,” he said, after earlier referring to the suspect as a “guy.”
“They were about as tall as I was. I assume it was an adult. My view was focused on what was the (suspect’s) right hand,” Nemnich said.
Nemnich said he took the knife from the person after being cut, and he dumped it in the kitchen sink. He later said he couldn’t explain why his fingerprints weren’t found on the item. Nemnich said he noticed Ketchum’s body down the hallway, and he confirmed she was dead by touching his finger to her throat. Then he saw Benson’s body.
“I have some degree of humanity,” Nemnich said of his efforts to check on the girl. “I’m not going to go away and just leave a little girl there.”
He left, he said, fearing police would finger him for the murders because he had been convicted previously of multiple felonies.
“I thought I’m in big trouble,” he said. “Here I am with a cut finger and bleeding all over the place. I thought, ‘(expletive), I can’t do anything, I can’t call anyone.’ I didn’t trust the police, and I don’t trust police now.”
Nemnich repeatedly referenced his adult life and his incarcerations. Nemnich had two felony convictions before his 15th birthday.
“I grew up in an environment where self-preservation requires you keep your mouth shut,” he said.
While denying involvement in the Benson-Ketchum murders, Nemnich on Friday acknowledged he raped two women at knife point: A now 68-year-old woman whom he assaulted in her home in Pueblo in 1968 and a 65-year-old woman who he attacked in her home in 1960 in Columbus, Neb. The women confronted Nemnich in testimony Thursday and Friday.
Nemnich said he wasn’t a killer, but acknowledged he had threatened to kill some of his victims.
“I wasn’t good at confrontation,” he said. “I would be scared while these crimes were happening.”
Tuttle challenged Nemnich to explain eight locations where blood was found inside Benson’s apartment. Experts testified to matching, or partially matching, Nemnich’s DNA profile in each location.
Nemnich’s attorneys highlighted the presence of an unidentified male, with a profile left in blood, in the same apartment.
“Would there be any reason to touch the wall of the bathroom after checking (Ketchum’s) pulse?” Tuttle asked, citing one location where Nemnich’s blood was confirmed.
Nemnich said he couldn’t think of a reason.
“I had a damaged nerve, (the knife) grated on the bone,” he said. “I’m almost surprised there wasn’t more of my blood than they actually got.”