Lawyer: Prior convictions inadmissible

Murder suspect's defense says evidence not relevant to current charges

An attorney for a convicted rapist accused of killing a Grand Junction mother and daughter in 1975 is seeking to prevent prosecutors from introducing evidence that could show the suspect has a history of committing violent crimes.

Public Defender Ryan Esplin argued in a written motion to Mesa County District Judge Brian Flynn that admitting such evidence would violate 65-year-old Jerry Nemnich’s right to a fair trial. Esplin also argued that prosecutors must prove that the prior convictions are relevant.

“Colorado has long since adhered to the exclusionary principle that, subject to many narrow exceptions, evidence of other crimes, bad acts, or bad character is not admissible as proof of the accused’s guilt with respect to the crime charged,” Esplin wrote.

Nemnich is scheduled to go to trial next spring on two counts of first-degree murder and other charges in the stabbing deaths of 24-year-old Linda Benson and her 5-year-old daughter, Kelley. The two were found dead in their Grand Junction apartment in July 1975.

Nemnich, an over-the-road truck driver who was most recently living in Longmont, was arrested in April after police reinvestigated the case and reportedly discovered blood at the murder scene matched Nemnich’s DNA.

Nemnich’s criminal history dates back to when he was 15, and he has been arrested multiple times for assault, sexual assault and attempted sexual assault.

Public records show he has been convicted of attempted sexual assault or sexual assault at least three times.

District Attorney Pete Hautzinger said after Nemnich pleaded not guilty earlier this month that he would try to introduce convictions in two cases he believes were similar to the Benson case. In both those cases, Hautzinger said, Nemnich entered a home with a weapon and attacked another person.

Esplin has filed several other motions, including ones indicating he will challenge the reliability and accuracy of the prosecution’s DNA evidence and an objection to the admission of any statements made by witnesses who will not testify at trial.

Lawyers in the case must file motions by Jan. 20. A three-week trial is scheduled to begin April 19.


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