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Hammer murder suspect expected in court for preliminary hearing in 1984 Bennett family murders

Alex Christopher Ewing's lawyers have asked for a delay. If that's denied, public will get first glimpse at evidence against him in attack that left three dead.

CENTENNIAL, Colo. — Nearly two years after a DNA test linked a Nevada inmate to a series of horrific 1984 hammer attacks in the Denver area, he is scheduled to have his first substantive court hearing in Colorado on Tuesday morning.

The preliminary hearing scheduled for Alex Christopher Ewing, 59, will be the first time evidence has been detailed in a courtroom that links him to the murders of Bruce and Debra Bennett and their 7-year-old daughter, Melissa, in Aurora.

>> Video above: 1984 video shows day after Bennett family murders discovered

If the hearing is held – Ewing’s lawyers have filed a motion to delay it – Arapahoe County District Judge Michelle Amico will then rule on whether prosecutors have enough to take the case to trial – and whether that evidence is so convincing that Ewing should be kept behind bars without bail.

Ewing has another preliminary hearing scheduled June 29 in Jefferson County District Court in the rape and murder of Patricia Louise Smith in Lakewood, who was killed Jan. 10, 1984 – six days before the attack on the Bennetts.

Ewing was behind bars in Nevada on a 110-year sentence for a similar attack when a DNA match led Colorado investigators to him.

He fought his extradition, eventually exhausting his appeals before he was flown to Colorado on Feb. 28.

Although he has made court appearances in both Colorado cases, Tuesday’s hearing is scheduled to run all day – and if it occurs, it’s expected to give the public a good idea of some of the evidence prosecutors are likely to present at trial.

In an order issued June 5, Judge Amico said she would consider the defense’s motion for a delay – as well as other matters – at the outset of this hearing.

And with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, a number of precautions will be in place, including masks and a separation of at least six feet for everyone in the courtroom, and a thorough cleaning and disinfecting of the room during the lunch break. The witness table and chair will also be disinfected before each witness is called.

RELATED: True crime podcast BLAME examines deadly 1984 hammer attacks, fallout for those left behind

Ewing, who was born in North Carolina and spent much of his childhood in northern California, had a series of petty crimes on his record when he arrived in Colorado in the summer of 1983. That’s when, according to court records, he obtained a Colorado driver’s license.

In addition to the Smith and Bennett murders, he is suspected in two other attacks in Aurora earlier that same month but is not expected to face charges in either case.

On Jan. 4, 1984, a man attacked a sleeping couple with a hammer, fleeing after he was challenged. They both suffered head injuries but recovered.

Late the night of Jan. 9, 1984, or early the next morning, a man attacked a flight attendant in her garage, savagely beating and sexually assaulting her and leaving her for dead. She survived and recovered.

The next afternoon, Smith, a 50-year-old interior decorator, was surprised in the condominium she was sharing with her daughter and grandchildren. She was raped and killed with an auto-body hammer. Her daughter, Chery Lettin, discovered her body later that night.

Six days later, on Jan. 16, 1984, the Bennetts were attacked. Bruce Bennett’s mother, Connie Bennett, discovered the bodies after the couple did not show up for work. The only survivor was the couple’s 3-year-old daughter, Vanessa, who lived despite extensive head injuries.

Although the murder weapon was not found at the scene, investigators believe the couple and their daughters were all beaten with a claw hammer. Bruce Bennett’s throat was also cut.

According to court documents obtained by 9Wants to Know, Ewing was arrested in Kingman, Arizona 11 days after the Bennett murders, accused of breaking into a home there and beating a man with a slab of granite. Because of overcrowded conditions at the jail in Kingman, Ewing was held for a time at a detention center in Utah.

On Aug. 9, 1984, Ewing was being transported from Utah back to Kingman for a court hearing when he ran off after jail deputies stopped the transport van in Henderson, Nevada for a bathroom break. That night, Ewing broke into a home in Henderson and attacked a couple with an ax handle, savagely beating them. He was arrested two days later, convicted of multiple charges and was in Nevada’s prison system until he was transferred to Colorado 3½ months ago.

Contact 9NEWS reporter Kevin Vaughan with tips about this or any story: kevin.vaughan@9news.com or 303-871-1862.

RELATED: From the archive: 1984 video shows day after Bennett family murders discovered

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