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Second “Hammer Killer” trial opens with prosecutor comparing 1984 murders in Lakewood, Aurora

“Semen and similarities.” With those words, the prosecution opened its case Tuesday afternoon against Alex Ewing, the man standing trial in Jefferson County in connection with the gruesome killing of 50-year-old Patricia Smith in her Lakewood home 37 years ago.

Prosecutors made clear that they intend to directly tie Smith’s death with another grisly crime committed six days later: the slayings of three members of the Bennett family in Aurora. An Arapahoe County jury in August found Ewing, 61, guilty of those murders, and he was sentenced last month to three consecutive life terms in prison.

This trial is another one that’s nearly 40 years in the making.

On Jan. 10, 1984, Smith had just returned home from running errands when an individual entered through her open garage door and bludgeoned her to death, authorities said. Smith also had been raped, and a hammer was left underneath a blanket beside her.

The two crimes — part of a terrifying series of assaults and killings around metro Denver in January 1984 — share numerous similarities, Chief Deputy District Attorney Katharine Decker said during her opening statements.

The killer entered through an open garage in both cases and rummaged through purses, she said. Weapons were left at both scenes — a hammer in Smith’s case and a knife at the Bennett home.

All five people — Smith, 27-year-old Bruce Bennett, 26-year-old Debra Bennett, 7-year-old Melissa Bennett and 3-year-old Vanessa Bennett, who survived — suffered blunt-force trauma consistent with a hammer, Decker argued.

Both Smith and Melissa Bennett were sexually assaulted, and Ewing’s semen was found in the same places in both crime scenes, she said.

“Semen and similarities,” Decker said, employing a phrase she’d use multiple times in her opening statement. “That’s what this case comes down to. That’s how we know the defendant sexually assaulted and killed Patricia Smith.”

Ewing’s attorney, Katherine Powers Spengler, countered that critical pieces of evidence were contaminated and compromised over the years, and that DNA on certain items of clothing don’t match Ewing’s.

“The prosecution leads you to believe this case is simple,” Spengler told the jury during her openings statement. “The prosecution wants you to trust some DNA, ignore other DNA evidence and look no further. It’s anything but simple.”

The rash of unexplained killings flummoxed investigators for decades, until law enforcement in 2018 matched DNA evidence from the Colorado crime scenes to Ewing, who was already serving 40 years in a Nevada prison for attacking a couple with an ax handle.

Updated 5 p.m. Oct. 19, 2021 This story has been updated to correct the name of the Jefferson County prosecutor who delivered opening statements.

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