Appeals court upholds convictions in ‘75 slayings of mother, daughter
The Colorado Court of Appeals affirmed the convictions Thursday of a man serving life-without-parole prison sentences for a 1975 double murder in Grand Junction.
In a 17-page ruling, the court said that Jerry Nemnich, now 69, was properly convicted of two counts of first-degree murder after deliberation, for the murders of 24-year-old Linda Benson and her 5-year-old daughter, Kelley Ketchum, inside their Grand Junction apartment.
“I am very pleased that the Court of Appeals has affirmed all of Nemnich’s substantive convictions, that they found all of the evidence introduced and admitted against Nemnich was proper and that Nemnich will indeed be spending the rest of his life in prison,” said Mesa County District Attorney Pete Hautzinger.
The Court of Appeals also on Thursday dismissed Nemnich’s conviction for felony murder against Linda Benson, citing a U.S. Supreme Court decision that says a defendant may not receive more than one murder conviction for the same killing.
The lost conviction, however, should have little bearing on Nemnich’s fate, Hautzinger said.
Nemnich was convicted at trial in 2010 on the strength of DNA evidence and a cold-case Grand Junction Police Department team that reopened the investigation in 2008. Blood matching Nemnich’s DNA profile was found in at least eight places inside Benson’s apartment, and his DNA was found underneath Benson’s fingernails.
Nemnich maintained his innocence during his trial, testifying in his defense that he had gone to Benson’s apartment complex to buy marijuana and was assaulted by an unknown person with a knife inside the apartment. He claimed after wrestling the weapon away from the assailant and dumping it in the kitchen sink, he discovered the bodies. He said he fled and didn’t tell anybody out of a fear he’d be implicated.
The Court of Appeals rejected Nemnich’s main claim on appeal: That District Judge Brian Flynn had abused discretion when he allowed in evidence Nemnich’s two prior sexual assault convictions. Prosecutors had successfully argued the prior acts were relevant because they showed modus operandi similar to the allegations in the Benson murders.
“In the previous cases, Nemnich had unlawfully entered the homes of women he did not know for the purpose of committing sexual assault by brandishing or threatening use of a knife,” the ruling said. “Those incidents make it more likely that, in this case, Nemnich knowingly entered (Benson’s) home with the intent to sexually assault her.”