Jury joins family to pay respects to victims of 1975 murders
They gathered in a corner of the Orchard Mesa Cemetery, exchanging hugs and tears. The gray skies that had spit rain off and on during the day parted and the sun broke through before it descended behind Colorado National Monument.
The one-time strangers, whose lives may never have intersected if not for the unspeakable horror committed 35 years ago, formed a half-circle. They bowed their heads in prayer.
Then, one by one, they approached the gravesite, bent over and laid two roses upon it. One for Linda, the young mother. One for Kelley, the little 5-year-old.
The retired police detective who was one of the first to see the slashed bodies of Linda Benson and Kelley Ketchum.
The prosecutor who helped lay out in court the case against the killer.
The jurors who concluded that Jerry Nemnich must be held accountable.
On Tuesday, one day after Nemnich was sentenced to two life terms in prison for the brutal murders of the Grand Junction mother and daughter, they joined with the victims’ relatives to say goodbye to a woman and child they only knew in death.
The ceremony carried forward a gesture initiated by Grand Junction Police Department Cmdr. Greg Assenmacher and retired officer Larry Bullard, who presented Barbara Rippy with two roses when they showed up on her doorstep a year and a half ago with news of an arrest in her daughter’s and granddaughter’s 1975 slayings. Assenmacher gave Rippy another pair of roses when the jury convicted Nemnich last month.
Minutes before Nemnich was sentenced Monday, the jury foreman approached Benson’s brother, Mark Himmerite. Would it be all right if he and the other 11 jurors placed roses at the headstone?
“I thought that was really neat,” Himmerite said. “I think the thing it signifies the most is they felt it. They felt the pain.”
Assistant District Attorney Rich Tuttle said the fact that the jury sought out Himmerite and Rippy after the trial demonstrates how crimes of this caliber can bring a community together.
“There’s no explanation for why it takes 35 years to get this result. The bottom line is: This was the time for it,” he said.
Asked what participating in Tuesday’s gathering meant to him, Doug Rushing choked up.
“It’s kind of tearful,” he said, pausing to gather the emotions welling up inside. “I was 25. I had a 5-year-old and a 2-year-old. We didn’t live far from (the Benson apartment).”
The Benson case marked the first homicide Rushing investigated as a Grand Junction police detective. He’ll forever carry with him the images from the autopsies. But even as the years passed and the ghost he and others began chasing in 1975 stayed elusive, he remained confident the killer would be caught.
“Over the course of time, the truth is going to come out,” he said. “And good is going to triumph over evil.”