Lawyer: Evidence missing in 1975 slayings

An attorney for the man suspected of stabbing to death a Grand Junction mother and daughter in 1975 is asking a judge to dismiss the case or impose sanctions on prosecutors, alleging several pieces of evidence recovered from the crime scene years ago are now missing.

In a motion filed this week, Public Defender Ryan Esplin said based on his review of police reports and evidence he viewed at the Grand Junction Police Department, he believes blood evidence, body fluid evidence and a pistol that police collected at the crime scene are missing and unaccounted for. He disputed a Grand Junction police detective’s testimony last August that only a piece of drywall officers removed from the crime scene was missing.

Esplin represents 65-year-old Jerry Nemnich, who is charged with first-degree murder and other counts in the slayings of 24-year-old Linda Benson and her 5-year-old daughter, Kelley. The pair’s bodies were found in their apartment in July 1975.

The case was cold until last April, when police arrested Nemnich, an over-the-road trucker, at the Loma port of entry.

Blood found at the crime scene was submitted to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, which matched it to Nemnich’s DNA.

But Esplin argues other evidence is missing, and it’s possible those items could assist Nemnich.

“At this point the extent or cause of the missing evidence is unknown to counsel,” Esplin wrote in his motion to District Judge Brian Flynn.

“Counsel has made all reasonable, good faith efforts to gain access to all the physical evidence, to no avail.”

Esplin asked Flynn to order prosecutors to disclose all evidentiary items that have been lost, destroyed or compromised and any information about the disappearance or destruction of those items.

In a separate motion, Esplin asked Flynn to move Nemnich’s trial out of Mesa County, arguing that media coverage of the case has been pervasive, public sentiment has been antagonistic, and law enforcement and prosecutors have orchestrated both.

“Mesa County is prejudiced against Mr. Nemnich at every level, from the county government officials, to the judiciary, to the police department, to the media, and the populace,” Esplin wrote.

“Mr. Nemnich cannot obtain a fair trial or a fair jury in this jurisdiction.”

Meanwhile, prosecutors this week filed their own motion to introduce evidence from several crimes Nemnich committed before the Benson case and a crime committed after the Benson case so they can establish an alleged pattern of violent criminal behavior on Nemnich’s part.

Assistant District Attorney Rich Tuttle wants to submit the details of those crimes under seal to the judge, although District Attorney Pete Hautzinger previously told The Daily Sentinel that two of the cases are from 1968 in Pueblo County and 1960 in Boulder County. In both cases, Hautzinger said, Nemnich entered a home with a weapon and attacked another person. He served time in prison in both cases.

The subsequent crime cited by prosecutors is likely a 1978 Denver rape for which Nemnich served 14 years in prison.

Attorneys have until Jan. 20 to submit motions. Nemnich is scheduled to go to trial beginning April 19.


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