COLORADO, USA — Fifteen months after a DNA hit identified a suspect in a series of horrific 1984 hammer attacks in the Denver area, the man remains in Nevada – his extradition to Colorado stalled by a series of delays sought by his attorney and inaction by that state’s highest court.
Alex Christopher Ewing, who is serving a 110-year sentence for an ax-handle assault on a Henderson couple that occurred seven months after the Colorado attacks, faces multiple charges in the murders of Patricia Louise Smith in Lakewood and Bruce and Debra Bennett and their daughter, Melissa, in Aurora.
Another daughter, Vanessa, was horribly beaten and barely survived.
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It is not clear how soon the Nevada Supreme Court could rule on Ewing’s appeal of an order issued last December that he be transferred to Colorado.
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“I do not understand,” Smith’s daughter, Chery Lettin, told 9Wants to Know. “It's a travesty of justice that these things happen.”
“It is frustrating to think that people who do those kinds of things can just – it seems like the law leans toward them, you know, as far as giving their rights,” said Connie Bennett, who spent 35 years wondering if she’d live long enough to see justice for her son, daughter-in-law and granddaughters. “Oh my goodness – that’s frustrating.”
Martin H. Wiener, Ewing’s Reno-based volunteer attorney, declined to comment Wednesday.
The 1984 attacks shocked people across the Denver area, and sales of burglar alarms and guns shot up.
They started that Jan. 4 when a man with a hammer broke into an Aurora home and attacked a couple sleeping in bed, inflicting serious injuries before fleeing. Less than a week later, a man with a hammer attacked a flight attendant in Aurora, beating and sexually assaulting her. The next day, Smith was sexually assaulted and murdered in Lakewood. And then on Jan. 16 came the attack on the Bennett family.
For more than 34 years, the case remained unsolved. Then, in July 2018 came a DNA match linking Ewing to the murders of Smith and Bruce, Debra and Melissa Bennett.
Ewing was arrested in Arizona 11 days after the Bennett attack for a middle-of-the-night assault on a man in Kingman. Later that year, he escaped while being transporter to court, broke into a home in Henderson, Nevada, and beat a sleeping couple with an ax handle. He was caught within days and has been behind bars ever since.
In August, 2018, then-Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and then-Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval both signed extradition orders. Four months later, a judge in Nevada ordered that Ewing be transferred to Colorado to face charges in the murders here.
Wiener, Ewing’s attorney, immediately appealed, challenging a judge’s conclusion that the inmate was not entitled to an appointed lawyer during the extradition hearing. In addition, Wiener suggested that the extradition documents were not “in order” – a requirement for them to be valid – because they suggest Ewing’s transfer to Colorado would be “temporary” although they also call for him to complete any sentence here before being returned to Nevada.
In January, the Nevada Supreme Court ordered an “expedited” briefing schedule for the appeal that gave Wiener until April 15 to file his opening brief. After that, the state’s attorney general was to have 30 days to reply, and then Wiener was to have 30 days to file a final brief.
But Wiener successfully won multiple time extensions that slowed down the process:
- On April 11, he sought a 30-day extension, writing this his sole employee – who handles “all of the office typing” and “other duties” – was injured in a car crash. The court granted him a delay until May 13 in an order that said, “further extensions of time will not be viewed favorably.”
- On May 13, Wiener sought an 11-day extension based on “extraordinary circumstances” and “extreme need,” namely that he had a heavy “workload.”
- On May 21, the court denied the request but gave him until May 24 to file that opening brief – effectively allowing the 11-day extension. The brief he filed that day was found “deficient” by the court, and he amended it and refiled it on June 3.
- On July 23 – the day before his final brief was due – Wiener asked for a 60-day extension, citing “71 completely new court decisions that appellant’s counsel will have to locate, read, analyze, understand and be prepared to respond to …” The court denied that request but effectively granted the extension by waiting until Sept. 26 – 65 days after the request – to issue its ruling.
“We are all so frustrated, not understanding how this can happen, when the excuses are nothing short of my dog ate my homework,” Lettin said. “Seriously, that's what it is. They're not even – they’re not viable.”
Now it’s up to the Nevada Supreme Court to make a move. It can schedule oral arguments, or it can rule on the briefs that have been filed.
As of Wednesday, the court had given no indication when it might take action.
Contact 9NEWS reporter Kevin Vaughan with tips about this or any story: firstname.lastname@example.org or 303-871-1862.
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