x

Denver's Leading Local News: Weather, Traffic, Sports and more | Denver, Colorado | 9NEWS.com

Hammer murder suspect makes first court appearance in 1984 rape, murder of woman

Alex Christopher Ewing spent 20 months fighting extradition to Colorado. Now, he faces charges in this killing and murders of Bennett family members in Aurora.

JEFFERSON COUNTY, Colo. — Alex Christopher Ewing – the onetime Nevada inmate who lost a 20-month battle to block his transfer to Colorado – faced a judge late Tuesday afternoon and was formally charged with the January 1984 murder of Patricia Louise Smith.

Smith, a 50-year-old interior designer, was surprised by an intruder as she ate lunch in the condominium she was sharing with her daughter and two grandchildren.

Her attacker raped her and beat her to death with an auto-body hammer.

The hammer used to kill Smith was left at the scene.

The case was unsolved for more than 30 years before a DNA hit led investigators to Ewing in July 2018. At the time, he was serving a 110-year sentence in Nevada for a late-night ax-handle attack on a Henderson couple.

> The video below traces Ewing's trail after the 1984 attacks in Lakewood and Aurora.

That DNA hit also connected him to three murders in Aurora that occurred six days after Smith was killed – the slayings of Bruce and Debra Bennett and their 7-year-old daughter, Melissa. Another daughter, 3-year-old Vanessa, was also savagely beaten but survived.

Ewing entered the courtroom wearing a red jail uniform with his ankles shackled and wrists cuffed to a belly chain.

Ewing spoke only briefly – answering a number of questions from Judge Tamara Russell about his attorneys’ request that his preliminary hearing not be held until May 22, at the earliest.

“Yes ma’am,” he answered when asked if he understood that he had a right to have that hearing within 35 days.

Russell pointed out that the hearing – where she will have to determine if there is enough evidence to support the charges again – is currently scheduled 72 days out.

Ewing told her he understood.

She asked him if he had any questions, or if he was subject to force or coercion in making the decision.

Each time, he answered, “No.”

“Thank you,” Ewing said when the judge was completed.

Throughout the hearing, eight members of Smith’s family – including her daughter, Chery Lettin, who found her body – sat in the front row of the gallery, some of them staring at Ewing as he sat between his attorneys.

Ewing’s attorneys had resisted setting any date for the preliminary hearing.

Katherine Spengler, one of Ewing’s attorneys, repeatedly argued that the fact that the prosecution could seek the death penalty would require extra preparation.

But Judge Russell told her that issue wasn’t up for discussion at this hearing – the prosecution does not have to decide whether to seek the death penalty until 63 days after Ewing enters a plea.

No date for that has been set.

RELATED: She was the sole survivor of one of Colorado's most brutal crimes. Now, she's telling her story

Ewing’s appearance Tuesday afternoon in Jefferson County district court came a little more than a week after he was advised of charges in Arapahoe County in the Bennett family murders.

Ewing, 59, faces 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.

He faces 13 separate counts in the attacks on members of the Bennett family.

RELATED: Hammer attack suspect makes first court appearance in 1984 killings of 3 members of the Bennett family

Ewing arrived in Colorado Feb. 28 after a 20-month fight to block his extradition from Nevada, where he was serving a 110-year sentence for an ax-handle attack on a couple there.

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

The 1984 attacks terrified people across the Denver area. Gun and burglar alarm sales soared, and some neighborhoods hired private security officers.

And the attacks stymied investigators for more than three decades before the DNA hit that led them to Ewing.

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.

RELATED: Nevada inmate wanted for murder after DNA ties him to notorious 1984 Colorado cold cases

The next afternoon Smith was killed, and the following week the Bennetts were attacked. 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, 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.

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

SUGGESTED VIDEOSInvestigations from 9Wants to Know