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6/10/2003

Keenan brings investigator’s ‘fresh set of eyes’ to JonBenet Ramsey case

By Travis Henry
The Daily Times-Call

BOULDER — District Attorney Mary Keenan has hired a retired detective whose sole purpose will be to investigate the death of JonBenet Ramsey.

Tom Bennett, a 30-year police veteran from Arvada, will begin work in Boulder on June 23. He retired from the Arvada Police Department in 2001.

“One thing this offers is a very fresh set of eyes with a depth of experience,” Keenan said.

Bennett, 55, was hired because of his experience, reputation and integrity, Keenan said. Bennett has a reputation for being extremely thorough and detailed, she added.

Last December, at the request of Keenan, Boulder police handed the primary responsibility of investigating JonBenet’s murder over to the district attorney’s office.

In April, Keenan announced that she agreed with an Atlanta district judge’s civil ruling that evidence in the case suggests that an intruder, rather than the girl’s mother, killed the 6-year-old.

Bennett’s hiring is the first public act Keenan has made to actively pursue the intruder theory.

In addition to investigating new leads into the case, Bennett’s duties also will include examining old leads that may not have been looked into thoroughly, Keenan said.

On Monday, Bennett seemed already in line with Keenan’s edict that no one but her talk about the case.

“Anything to do about the investigation I just cannot talk about,” Bennett said.

Keenan also reiterated Monday that she was the lone mouthpiece when it comes to the Ramsey investigation.

“Somebody’s got to keep control,” Keenan said.

Bennett is no stranger to high-profile cases. He was the lead detective in the case against Carlos Yeazel, who was convicted in 1990 of trying to murder his girlfriend and assaulting her mother and a 2-year-old child with a butcher knife. Yeazel was sentenced to 112 years in prison.

Bennett also investigated the 1998 death of Heidi Reicherseder, who was killed by her fiancé, Lawrence Fehling. Fehling shot her 13 times in the head and back at close range in front of the woman’s young son. He was convicted and received life in prison.

In 1997, Bennett received Arvada’s Medal of Valor after he was involved in a shootout at a hotel with a man wanted in his girlfriend’s slaying.

“He is the finest criminal investigator that I ever had the pleasure working with, bar none,” Arvada police Chief Ron Sloan said.

Bennett, who worked more than 2,000 cases during his career, was quick to pass the praise to the people with whom he worked.

He did say he was proud of the preparation and quality he put into his work.

“In the back of my mind, I always had the victim and the victim’s family as my driving force,” he said.

Keenan said she expects Bennett to work 25 to 40 hours a week on the case. He will be paid $25 an hour.

The investigator position is being paid for through funds opened up by a vacant attorney position in the district attorney’s office.

“We are trying to cover all of our needs without asking for more money,” Keenan said.

Helping Bennett out on the case will be retired Colorado Springs Detective Lou Smit, who has been off and on the case from early on. Smit, who was persuaded by former District Attorney Alex Hunter to come out of retirement, quit the case in 1998 because he felt authorities were wrongly concentrating on John and Patsy Ramsey.

Since Keenan has taken over, Smit is working part-time on the investigation.

In 2001, Bennett said he was going to use his retirement to travel, fish and write a novel. Now, he finds himself in the middle of one of the highest-profile murder cases in Colorado’s history.

“I have traveled, I have fished and I have been working on an old West murder mystery,” Bennett said. “I keep getting sidetracked by certain things. So I guess that will have to go on the back burner for a while.”

Travis Henry can be reached at 303-776-2244, Ext. 326, or by e-mail at
thenry@times-call.com.