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Hammer murder suspect's lawyer lashes out at Nevada court in ongoing effort to block extradition to Colorado

Ewing faces multiple charges in killings of Patricia Louise Smith and Bruce, Debra and Melissa Bennett. It's unclear when the court may rule on extradition appeal.
This jail mugshot of Alex Christopher Ewing was taken in Kingman, Arizona, 11 days after the murders of Bruce, Debra and Melissa Bennett in Aurora. (Photo: Provided to 9NEWS)

NEVADA, USA — An attorney for Alex Christopher Ewing, the Nevada inmate suspected in four 1984 hammer murders in the Denver area, lashed out at that state’s supreme court in his final brief filed as part of the ongoing effort to block his transfer to Colorado.

Although he had already asked for – and been granted – multiple delays, attorney Martin Wiener objected to an order last week by the Nevada Supreme Court that he file his final appeal paperwork by the end of the day Thursday.

According to Nevada court records, he filed it at 11:52 p.m. – 12:52 a.m. Denver time. That was eight minutes before the deadline.

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In it, he called that order “unjustified and unjust” and asserted that the state’s highest court “apparently succumbed” to the Nevada Attorney General’s “false claims of urgency.” As a result, Ewing’s attorneys wrote, “the order greatly aided the government’s goal of overburdening Mr. Ewing and his counsel.”

“That order was filed on a Thursday,” Wiener wrote. “Counsel had planned for weeks to leave on the next morning, Friday, for a remote and very rustic mountain cabin owned by his wife’s family – with no internet, cell phone or motor vehicle access – to seal it for the winter and then return on Sunday night to Reno.”

Wiener said that his return was delayed by snow and that after he got back to Reno he had another urgent case and therefore could not begin work on his final brief until Tuesday.

The filing was originally due months ago.

DNA testing in mid-2018 pointed to Ewing, now 59, as a suspect in the Jan. 10, 1984, rape and murder of Patricia Louise Smith in Lakewood and the attacks six days later in Aurora that left Bruce and Debra Bennett and their daughter, Melissa, dead and another daughter, Vanessa, critically injured. That Ewing was a suspect was made public in a 9Wants to Know report on Aug. 7, 2018, and within days authorities confirmed the news and began working to extradite the man to Colorado.

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Last Dec. 4, Judge James Wilson signed extradition orders requiring Ewing’s transfer to faces charges in both cases.

Wiener immediately appealed, challenged Wilson’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.

RELATED: Nevada AG argues against hammer murder suspect's appeal of extradition to Colorado

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. The brief he filed that day was found “deficient” by the court, and he amended it and refiled it on June 3.
  • On July 24 – the day 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 effectively granted it by not issuing an order until Sept. 27 – 60 days after the request – that set this week’s deadline.

It is not clear what the Nevada Supreme Court will do next – it can hold oral arguments, or it can rule on the briefs that have been filed.

Wiener, who began working with Ewing voluntarily, has also sought an order appointing him as the man’s attorney, something that would allow him to be paid for his work.

Jefferson County prosecutors have formally charged Ewing with four counts of first-degree murder and two counts of committing a crime of violence in the murder of Smith at the condominium she shared with her daughter and grandchildren. Smith, 50, was raped and beaten to death with an auto body hammer after apparently being surprised by an intruder while eating lunch.

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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 have an arrest warrant obtained in 2002 that lists 13 separate charges:

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • One count of burglary.

In addition, prosecutors in that case listed five sentencing enhancers – all alleging that Ewing committed a crime of violence.

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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.

Ewing is also suspected in two other hammer attacks in Aurora that occurred earlier that month, including one in which a woman was sexually assaulted, beaten and left for dead. However, he has not been charged in those cases – and it is not clear whether he could be.

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, Nevada, 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.

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