Ex-girlfriend recalls blood on suspect

Jerry Nemnich’s former girlfriend, Sandra Higgins, testifies during his trial on Thursday.

The ex-girlfriend of a man accused of stabbing to death a Grand Junction mother and daughter in 1975 testified Thursday that he came home one summer night that year with blood on his clothes and a cut on his hand.

Jerry Nemnich’s explanation for the blood and his injury was that “he was outside of a bar, and an inebriated, drunken Indian came at him with a knife, and he grabbed the knife,” Sandy Higgins said.

On the sixth day of the 65-year-old Nemnich’s first-degree murder trial in the slayings of 24-year-old Linda Benson and her 5-year-old daughter, Kelley Ketchum, Higgins told jurors she met Nemnich in Denver in or around 1975. They eventually moved to Grand Junction, where she previously told police the couple lived for six to 12 months.

While Higgins had trouble on the witness stand remembering specific dates and places she and Nemnich lived, she said she clearly remembered his outfit the night he came home with blood on his clothes and a cut on the palm of one of his hands: lemon-colored polyester pants and a black-and-white dress shirt.

“I liked it very much on him,” she said.

George Conroy, who was dating Higgins’ best friend and working at a Denver liquor store in 1975, testified that Nemnich wrote two checks to the liquor store on July 28 and 29, 1975, for beer and cigarettes.

Copies of the checks, which Conroy said he kept because he was angry about the fact that they bounced, were displayed to jurors.

The checks were in the name of Jerry and Sandra Nemnich and showed a printed address of a motel at 1430 North Ave. That address was crossed off, and an address for a mobile home at 2850 Texas Ave. was written next to it.

Both addresses are about a mile from Linda Benson’s apartment, and the first check was written three days after the mother and daughter’s bodies were found.

In other testimony:

A 66-year-old woman laid out in detail for jurors how she was raped by Nemnich in her and her husband’s home in Pueblo in 1968.

The woman, whom The Daily Sentinel isn’t identifying because she was a sexual-assault victim, said she was lying on the couch one afternoon when a man entered the house through the unlocked screen door, put a knife to her throat and ordered her into the bedroom.

“He had me lay down on the bed, he laid the knife beside my head, and we had intercourse,” the woman said, adding she didn’t fight back and was afraid he would kill her.

The man, later identified as Nemnich, was arrested and convicted of assault with intent to commit rape. Records show he was sentenced to 1 day to 15 years in prison and paroled in 1973. He confessed to the crime in a statement to Colorado Department of Corrections officials.

Nemnich’s attorney tried to direct the spotlight away from her client and onto an unknown male whose blood was found inside Linda Benson’s apartment.

During cross-examination of Colorado Bureau of Investigation agent Cynthia Kramer, public defender Suzanne Katchmar played up the fact that the CBI was able to develop a DNA profile from a spot of blood found near the kitchen sink and determine it belonged to an unknown male.

Kramer plugged the DNA profile into a database containing profiles of convicted offenders but found no matches.

“Mr. 1417 (the evidence number) is still out there, isn’t he?” Katchmar asked Kramer near the end of testimony Thursday morning. “You don’t know the role Jerry Nemnich played. That could be the real killer, couldn’t he?”

“Yes, he could,” Kramer replied.

Prosecutors are expected to call their final witness and rest their case today.


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