NO DEATH PENALTY IN ’75 MURDER CASE, DA DECIDES
CASE AGAINST LONGMONT MAN BOUND BY 1970s LAW
A Longmont man accused of fatally slashing a Grand Junction mother and daughter in 1975 will not face the death penalty if he’s convicted, Mesa County District Attorney Pete Hautzinger said Tuesday.
After consulting with the Colorado Attorney General’s Office, Hautzinger told District Judge Brian Flynn that while the death penalty was in effect in Colorado in 1975, the state Supreme Court found it unconstitutional in 1978, making any homicides from 1975 ineligible for the death penalty.
That means 64-year-old Jerry Nemnich would face up to life in prison if convicted of the stabbing deaths of Linda Benson, 24, and her 5-year-old daughter, Kelley.
“There was not an enactable death penalty at the time these crimes were committed, so we will not be pursuing that,” Hautzinger said. “I don’t see any legal way we could be pursuing that.”
Nemnich was charged Tuesday with two counts of first-degree murder, two counts of felony murder and single counts of first-degree burglary and second-degree burglary.
The hearing lasted just three minutes. Nemnich, who was dressed in a red jail suit, shackled at the wrists and ankles and flanked by two Mesa County sheriff’s deputies, did not speak. Public Defender Steve Colvin waived Nemnich’s right to a preliminary hearing within 30 days.
Relatives of the Bensons and two Grand Junction police officers sat on the opposite site of the courtroom from Nemnich. Family members left the courtroom without speaking to the media.
Hautzinger told Flynn he has turned over to Colvin more than 2,000 pages of evidence generated from the original investigation. He said he expects that number to double in the next couple of weeks based on work investigators have completed in the past two years in reviving the case.
Although an arrest affidavit laying out the case against Nemnich apparently will remain sealed for the foreseeable future, the charges leveled against Nemnich provide a glimpse into what authorities believe happened.
The felony murder counts allege Nemnich killed the Bensons during the course of burglarizing their apartment at 1300 N. 21st St. on July 24 or 25, 1975. The burglary counts claim Nemnich was armed with a knife and intended to assault or sexually assault the mother and daughter.
Steve Benson, Linda’s husband and Kelley’s stepfather, found the bodies on July 25 after returning home from working in Hayden. He found his wife’s nude body at the foot of the bed in the master bedroom and his daughter’s partially clothed body on the floor of a connecting bathroom. Both had been stabbed multiple times.
Ron Smith, who was in charge of the Grand Junction Police Department’s investigations unit at the time of the murders, told The Daily Sentinel earlier this month that while there was no evidence the Bensons were sexually assaulted, he believed the crimes were sexually motivated.
Investigators found a third source of blood inside the Bensons’ apartment. It’s unknown whether police used that to link Nemnich to the murders, but police told the Sentinel last summer there was evidence from the crime scene that they sent to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation for DNA testing.
Nemnich will return to court May 20.