ARAPAHOE COUNTY, Colo. — A trial in one of Colorado’s most notorious murder cases – the 1984 hammer slayings of three members of an Aurora family – was delayed Wednesday after prosecutors, defense attorneys and the judge concluded they could not go before a jury in April as had been planned.
Alex Christopher Ewing, identified as a suspect in the case in 2018, is now tentatively set to go on trial in late July in the beating deaths of Bruce and Debra Bennett and their 7-year-old daughter, Melissa.
The couple’s other daughter, 3-year-old Vanessa, suffered critical head injuries but survived.
> Video above: BLAME, a true crime podcast, takes listeners along the trail of the 1984 hammer murders.
The stumbling block to moving ahead with the trial sooner is that more than three dozen motions are still pending – 36 filed by defense attorneys, five by prosecutors.
“I’m exceptionally cognizant of the age of this particular case and the desire to move forward to trial,” Judge Michelle Amico said Wednesday morning during the second of two days of hearings aimed at addressing the motions.
The reality, however, is that all day Tuesday was taken up with testimony from witnesses on issues relating to only a handful of the unresolved motions. The judge has also indicated that some of the motions are going to require legal careful analysis and that will take time.
The defense is seeking a number of concessions – including the dismissal of all charges or other sanctions, and a change of venue. The effort to have charges dismissed – or other sanctions issued – center on the assertion by police and prosecutors over the past two decades that the killer sexually assaulted Vanessa Bennett.
Police reports in the case show that doctors who examined her found no sign she was sexually assaulted.
Defense attorneys also assert that extensive news reporting on the case over the years should lead the judge to move the trial to another jurisdiction.
The prosecution wants to introduce evidence about the murder of a Lakewood woman six days before the attack on the Bennetts. Ewing faces murder charges in that case. In addition, prosecutors want to be able to show the jury that Ewing was arrested in Arizona 11 days after the Bennett murders and that he was convicted and imprisoned in Nevada for an attack there later that same year. They also want the jury to hear testimony from a police officer who said Vanessa Bennett shared memories of the assault about five years later after it occurred.
Her statements in 1989 included a description of the killer – a white man with brown or light brown hair who was wearing blue jeans, a multi-colored shirt and “fuzzy” gloves, according to former Aurora police investigator Marv Brandt.
But the trial can’t go forward until all pending motions are argued and ruled on.
Chris Wilcox, one of the prosecutors on the case, said that members of the Bennett family have a “desire to get this case resolved and to trial in a speedy manner” but also recognize the challenges with trying the case in April.
As he spoke, Connie Bennett – Bruce Bennett’s mother – sat in the courtroom. Now 87, she went to the home of her son’s family the morning of Jan. 16, 1984, after being unable to reach anyone by telephone and discovered the horrific scene.
Judge Amico scheduled the beginning of jury selection for July 23, with the trial itself slated to begin July 26. The court blocked out five weeks on its calendar.
Ewing faces six counts of first-degree murder in the case – three alleging he killed each of the victims after deliberation, three alleging he killed each of them in the course of committing a felony.
He also faces four counts of first-degree murder in the killing of Patricia Louise Smith in Lakewood, which occurred six days before the Bennett killings. One count alleges Ewing killed her after deliberation, the other three allege he killed her in the course of committing a felony – specifically, burglary, robbery, or rape. He is schooled to be in court in that case on Friday. No trial date has been set.
Police arrested Ewing in Kingman, Ariz., 11 days after the Bennett killings in a late-night attack on a man who was hit in the head with a 25-pound rock, causing a serious head injury.
Seven months later, Ewing was still in custody in that case when he escaped while being transported to court, broke into a home in Henderson, Nev., and assaulted a couple with an ax handle.
He was still behind bars in that case when Nevada authorities took a DNA sample from him in 2018. When that DNA was added to the FBI’s national database, it was matched to DNA left at the scene of both the Bennett and Smith murders, according to court documents.
Ewing was extradited to Colorado in February 2020 to face charges in the two cases.
Contact 9NEWS reporter Kevin Vaughan with tips about this or any story: firstname.lastname@example.org or 303-871-1862.
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