The case against Alexander Christopher Ewing (60) comes down to forensic evidence. The state pointed to DNA found at the crime scene.
The crime scene is the Bennett Family home where 3 out of 4 family members were murdered in January 1984. All four family members were assaulted, only one survived.
In the papers, the most attention is paid to the last state witness, the DNA analyst at the Colorado Bureau of Investigation. Yvonne Woods was on the stand for more than three hours.
After her testimony, the prosecution rested their case. The defense moved for a mistrial, however, District Judge Darren Vahle denied that motion.
District Attorney John Kellner explained to the jury that Ewing was placed at the crime scene through his own DNA that came from sperm found on the carpeting underneath the body of Melissa Bennett (7) and from the comforter that partially covered her remains.
The odds that the DNA could have come from another person are 1 in 13 nonillion (30 zeroes.) The carpeting and the comforter were tested for DNA in 2001 and 2018. Both times, Ewing was a match.
How we eventually found Ewing, is an interesting story. In 2018, he was identified as a suspect in the Bennett Family Murders and the Patricia Louise Smith murder through a DNA match. When his DNA was found a match, Ewing was busy serving a 110-year sentence for a double murder. This double murder happened about seven months after the Bennett Family Murders. And, the DNA match only happened when Nevada prison officials started to collect DNA from all their inmates so they could upload it all to CODIS, the FBI’s national database. That’s how the match was found for the Bennett Family Murders and later on Patricia Smith’s murder. Patricia was murdered six days before the Bennett Family.
As in all old cases, there is a risk of contamination as evidence gathering disciplines and rules have changes dramatically over the past few decades. The defense brought up contamination that could have happened as many people have handled the evidence pieces. Some evidence was indeed destroyed in testing making a check impossible. Read the article for more details.
Yvonne Woods explained that there has been no cross-contamination e.g. the evidence in the Bennett case has not contaminated the evidence in the Smith case and visa versa. Woods confirmed that the only link between these two cases was the DNA from the defendant.
Items not tested
The defense is right that not every evidence piece has been tested for DNA. They are also right that their client’s DNA was not found on several items.
Ewing’s DNA was not found on Patricia Smith’s boots, jeans, and her panties. The scenario was always that her clothes were ripped off by her rapist-killer. But maybe she undressed while under threat? The most important part here is that Ewing’s DNA was not found on the murder weapon. Did Ewing wear a glove when he butchered Patricia with a hammer? His DNA was also not found on Melissa Bennett’s pajamas and underwear. Again, gloves?
Patricia Smith Connection
Judge Vahle ruled that the jury was allowed to hear about Patricia Smith’s rape-murder but only as to similarities with the Bennett Family Murders (modus operandi e.g. the use of a hammer, DNA found uderneath Smith and on a blanket partially covering her) but not that Ewing will go on trial in her case in October 2021.
Defense attorneys Stephen McCrohan and Katherine Spengler said “recent testing of some evidence left them unable to provide Ewing with effective assistance.” They asked for more time to prepare.
Judge Vahle denied the motion for a mistrial but also denied the defense’s request to acquit Ewing on all charges. The defense claimed that the state did not prove its charges.
Resting the case
After the following exchange, the prosecution rested. I quote:
“In a brutal sexual assault of a child where there’s semen found at the scene, does it more closely answer the question?” Kellner asked.
“Yes, it does,” Woods said.
“About who committed the rape and murder?” Kellner continued.
“Yes, it does,” Woods said.“
To be continued.