Suspect pleads not guilty to two murders in 1975

Jerry Nemnich

An over-the-road truck driver pleaded not guilty Tuesday to stabbing to death a Grand Junction mother and daughter in 1975, setting the stage for a trial that is expected to focus on DNA evidence and the suspect’s history of committing violent crimes.

Jerry Nemnich, 65, loudly and clearly entered his plea to two counts of first-degree murder, two counts of felony murder and single counts of first-degree burglary and second-degree burglary.

The man who most recently lived in Longmont is accused of killing 24-year-old Linda Benson and her 5-year-old daughter, Kelley, inside their Grand Junction apartment in July 1975.

Nemnich was arrested in April after Grand Junction police resurrected the investigation in 2008. They turned over blood found at the Bensons’ apartment to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation for testing. Court records indicate the blood matched Nemnich’s DNA profile.

A CBI agent testified in August that the odds of a white male other than Nemnich having the exact same profile developed from one spot of blood were greater than 1 in 40 quintillion.

Mesa County District Judge Brian Flynn scheduled a three-week trial to begin April 19. He set a plea-agreement deadline for Dec. 4, although attorneys in the case aren’t expected to reach an agreement.

Public defender Steve Colvin, who is representing Nemnich, told Flynn he expects to file motions challenging the admissibility of the DNA evidence.

On the other side, District Attorney Pete Hautzinger said he will seek to introduce evidence from two similar cases to establish an alleged pattern of violent criminal behavior on Nemnich’s part.

Nemnich was arrested for an assault and attempted sexual assault in Boulder County in 1960 and for a sexual assault in Pueblo County in 1968. In both cases, Hautzinger alleged, Nemnich entered a home with a weapon and attacked another person — circumstances he claims mirror the Benson case. Nemnich was convicted and sentenced to prison in both the Boulder County and Pueblo County cases.

After Tuesday’s hearing, Hautzinger said he and the Bensons’ relatives are pleased to have a trial date set, given the age of the case.

“It’s been a very long haul for them,” he said.

Nemnich remains in the Mesa County Jail on $3 million bond.

He also is under investigation in Denver for the rape and murder of University of Denver student June Kowaloff in 1973. Denver police have refused to comment on that case.


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