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DNA links dead ‘serial predator’ to murder of college student bludgeoned with rock, wrench and shot in the eye nearly 4 decades ago: Sheriff

Bryan Scott Bennett was identified as the killer of Cathy Sposito, whose body was found on a trail nearly four decades ago in Arizona. (Screenshots from Phoenix NBC affiliate KPNX)

Bryan Scott Bennett was identified as the killer of Cathy Sposito, whose body was found on a trail nearly four decades ago in Arizona. (Screenshots from local NBC affiliate KPNX)

After nearly four decades, a cold murder case was solved through DNA evidence linking a dead “serial predator” to the murder of a college student bludgeoned with a rock and wrench and shot in the eye while hiking in central Arizona, authorities said on Friday.

Bryan Scott Bennett, of Kentucky, was identified as the killer of Cathy Sposito, 23, whose body was found on Thumb Butte Trail in Prescott on June 13, 1987, Yavapai County Sheriff David Rhodes said in a news conference.

Bennett fatally shot himself in 1994 in his home state. He was a 16-year-old high school student at the time of the murder, officials said.

Authorities said they linked him to Sposito, a second victim sexually assaulted on the same trail later, and two other cases in the area. Investigators confirmed his identity through familial DNA and after exhuming his body from a grave in Kentucky where he was buried, the sheriff said.

“Cathy Sposito, I am saying today with high confidence, was murdered by Bryan Scott Bennett,” Rhodes said.

Hikers heard Sposito screaming for help that day, but nobody could reach her in time. By the time she was found, she was dead, the sheriff said. She had been hit with a rock and a ratchet, shot in the eye with a .22-caliber pistol and stabbed in the side of the head.

News of the incredibly awful and atrocious case rocked Prescott and Yavapai County in an investigation that went cold. Many detectives combed through volumes of documents and clues over the years. Evidence was submitted for DNA analysis to multiple laboratories in the long and twisting case. People called in tips, but no arrests were made despite reward money for information leading to the killer.

The break came due to advancements in DNA technology matching the bloody wrench to the victim and killer.

Bennett was linked to other sexual assaults, the sheriff said, including an attempted assault at a drinking party in Chino Valley, California, in which he followed a victim into a room, locked the door and tried to sexually assault her. The attack was interrupted when others broke the door in, and he ran away. Bennett was arrested in the case but was acquitted at trial based on discrepancies in eyewitness testimony, the sheriff said.

On June 2, 1993, he was identified in an attack of a fourth victim. In that case, the victim was approached at a post office in Prescott. She was taken knifepoint and sexually assaulted multiple times before the assault was broken up by an officer who pulled them over. He was arrested, but because of a lack of evidence and discrepancies in the stories, he faced no consequences, the sheriff said.

The victim spoke out at the news conference to talk about her story. She was a 22-year-old mother at the time. She said she didn’t always believe in God, but He was with her that night.

“I prayed. He spoke to me. He’s the reason that I’m here today,” she said.

To others even less fortunate, she had a message:

“Pray for all these people that have suffered a crime like this,” she said, voice wavering. “Pray for those people who never had a voice, who were never given an opportunity.”

She said she got to know Sposito from her brother. They were very close. He told her a lot about her, their family, and what they did together.

“He never gave up,” she said. “He never, ever gave up, never wavered. And today, she’s free. Cathy, you’re free. We’re always going to be tied together. We’re always going to have a connection. She will be with me till the day I die.”

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