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Hammer murder suspect extradited to Colorado to face charges in January 1984 Lakewood, Aurora killings

Alex Christopher Ewing is accused of murdering four people. His transfer comes nearly 20 months after DNA identified him as a suspect.

ARAPAHOE COUNTY, Colo. — Alex Christopher Ewing – the Nevada convict whose nearly 20-month-long fight to stop his extradition to Colorado ended this week at the U.S. Supreme Court – arrived in Colorado on Friday to face charges in two brutal 1984 hammer attacks that left four people dead, 9Wants to Know has learned.

Ewing, 59, was whisked to Colorado on a state airplane that landed at Centennial Airport at about 12:40 p.m. He was then driven to the Arapahoe County Detention Center, where he was being held without bail.

He’s expected to make his first court appearance on Monday, March 2 – a little more than 36 years after the rape and murder of Patricia Louise Smith in Lakewood and the attack in Aurora that took the lives of Bruce and Debra Bennett and their 7-year-old daughter, Melissa. The couple’s other daughter, 3-year-old Vanessa, barely survived.

The inexplicable assaults rattled people across the Denver area – sales of handguns and burglar alarms soared – and frustrated and confounded investigators for decades before a DNA hit in July 2018 led them to Ewing, who was serving a 110-year sentence in Nevada for an ax-handle attack on a Henderson couple.

RELATED: Nevada inmate charged in deadly 1984 Lakewood hammer attack

Ewing is expected to appear in an Arapahoe County courtroom in the Bennett case early next week, followed by an appearance in Jefferson County in Smith’s murder.

The transfer came exactly a week after the Nevada Supreme Court denied Ewing’s final effort to delay the move – and three days after his last-ditch effort to block it died at the U.S. Supreme Court.

Alexander Christopher Ewing, 1985 Nevada Department of Correction

“For a long time I never thought I would see it,” Connie Bennett, Bruce Bennett’s mother, told 9Wants to Know on Friday. “It went on so long that you almost lose hope.”

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.

RELATED: A timeline of the January 1984 hammer attacks in the Denver area

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, 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.

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.

Credit: Courtesy Reno Gazette Journal
Alex Christopher Ewing appears in court in October 2018.

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, Nev., 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 has been in Nevada’s prison system ever since.

RELATED: Suspect in '84 hammer attacks claimed he hitchhiked out of Denver

Jefferson County prosecutors have formally charged Ewing with four counts of first-degree murder and two counts of committing a crime of violence in Smith’s murder. One of the murder counts accuses Ewing of killing Smith “after deliberation.” Each of the three other murder counts alleges that he killed her while committing another crime – robbery, burglary and sexual assault.

Under Colorado’s felony murder rule, a person can be charged with first-degree murder for killing a person in the commission of another serious crime.

The two counts of committing a crime of violence are both sentencing enhancers.

Arapahoe County prosecutors have not formally charged Ewing in the Bennett case but obtained an arrest warrant in 2002 that lists 13 separate charges, including six counts of first-degree murder – two for each of the victims. One count in each case alleges the killings were carried out with deliberation, the other alleges they were committed as part of another felony.

Credit: Arapahoe County Sheriff's Office
Alex Ewing's current mugshot from the Arapahoe County Sheriff's Office.

RELATED: Hammer murder suspect says he'll fight extradition to Colorado

In addition, Ewing faces one count of attempted first-degree murder for the attack on Vanessa Bennett; two counts of sexual assault and two counts of sexual assault on a child for the attacks on the girls; one count of assault; and one count of burglary.

Prosecutors in that case listed five sentencing enhancers – all alleging that Ewing committed a crime of violence.

RELATED: Nevada Supreme Court orders extradition of hammer murder suspect to Colorado

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Below is a look at the legal odyssey that brought Ewing to Colorado to face multiple charges hammer attacks in Lakewood and Aurora in January 1984 that left Patricia Louise Smith and Bruce and Debra Bennett and their daughter, Melissa, dead:

May 2018:

  • Nevada Department of Corrections officials obtain a DNA sample from Alex Christopher Ewing. His DNA profile is later uploaded to the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System, known as CODIS.

July 2, 2018:

  •  A DNA hit is registered in the CODIS database between Ewing’s genetic fingerprint and DNA collected at the scene of the Bennett attacks. At the time, DNA from the scene of Smith’s murder had been removed from the CODIS database for further testing.

July 9, 2018:

  • After DNA from the Smith crime scene is re-entered into CODIS and registers a match to Ewing’s DNA.

July 12- 26, 2018: 

  • Lakewood and Aurora detectives travel to Nevada, obtain DNA samples from Ewing, and have them tested at the Colorado Bureau of Investigation lab, which confirms the matches from the CODIS database.

Aug. 7, 2018:

  • 9NEWS breaks the story that investigators in Aurora and Lakewood are looking at Ewing as a suspect in the Bennett and Smith murders.

Aug. 10, 2018: 

  • Arapahoe County authorities obtain an extradition warrant for Ewing.

Aug. 13, 2018:

  • Jefferson County authorities obtain an extradition warrant for Ewing

Sept. 4, 2018:

  • Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval signs an extradition warrant for Ewing.

Oct. 2, 2018:

  • Ewing makes his first court appearance following filing of extradition papers, telling Judge James E. Wilson he plans to fight extradition.

Dec. 4, 2018: 

  • Judge James E. Wilson denies a motion to block the extradition to Ewing.

Dec. 14, 2018: 

  • Martin Wiener, a volunteer attorney for Ewing, files appeal the extradition order.

Dec. 20, 2018: 

  • Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt files a motion seeking immediate consideration of the appeal.

Jan. 7, 2019:

  • The Nevada Supreme Court orders an expedited schedule for hearing Ewing’s appeal, setting a deadline of April 15, 2019, deadline his opening brief.

April 11, 2019:

  • Ewing’s attorney seeks 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 grants him a delay until May 13 in an order that says, “further extensions of time will not be viewed favorably.”

May 13, 2019:

  • Ewing’s attorney seeks an 11-day extension based on “extraordinary circumstances” and “extreme need,” namely that he had a heavy “workload.”

May 21, 2019: 

  • The Nevada Supreme Court denies the request but gives Ewing’s attorney until May 24 to file that opening brief – effectively allowing the 11-day extension. The brief he files that day is found “deficient,” and he amended it and refiled it on June 3.

July 23, 2019:

  • The day before his final brief is due, Ewing’s attorney asks 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 …”

Sept. 26, 2019: 

  • The Nevada Supreme Court denies the request for the 60-day extension – 65 days after it was made.

Nov. 22, 2019:

  • The Nevada Supreme Court denies Ewing’s appeal.

Nov. 26, 2019: 

  • Ewing’s attorney files a motion for a rehearing before the Nevada Supreme Court.

Jan. 24, 2020:

  • The Nevada Supreme Court denies Ewing’s motion for a rehearing.

Jan. 30, 2020: 

  • Ewing’s attorney files a motion with the Nevada Supreme Court for a delay in his extradition while he appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Feb. 21, 2020:

  • The Nevada Supreme Court denies Ewing’s appeal for a delay and orders his transfer to Colorado.

Feb 25, 2019:

  • Ewing’s request for an emergency stay of extradition from the U.S. Supreme Court is denied by Justice Elena Kagan.

Feb. 28, 2020:

  • Ewing is transferred to Colorado.

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

(Source: Jefferson County court records, Arapahoe County court records, Nevada Supreme Court records, U.S. Supreme Court records.)

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