State details evidence in '76 slayings

Staff WriterJanuary 11, 2006 

DURHAM -- A witness saw the two men charged in a 30-year-old triple homicide together in a car before and after the brutal killings took place. The second time, their clothes were bloodstained, a prosecutor said in a hearing Tuesday.

The murder cases are likely far away from a trial. But in the hearing, lawyers on both sides revealed details about how the police were able to bring charges. They disclosed what witnesses could tell a jury, and they discussed a bloody knife that might be one of the murder weapons.

Since 1976, most of the notes and files regarding the killings of Aubrey Goss, Walter Dean and William Wheeler have been lost. But police still have the knife and the clothing that they think could help convict the two suspects.

On Oct. 7, 1976, Goss and the other men were found inside an East Durham garage that was notorious for being a gambling and liquor house. The men had been shot, beaten and stabbed or hacked with a hatchet. For years, the case was one of Durham's most violent unsolved crimes.

Both suspects, Gary Bennett and Ronnie Manning, have maintained their innocence ever since they were arrested last year. One of Bennett's attorneys said in court Tuesday that because the police had other suspects who have since died, the real killers may never be caught. Defense lawyers said Tuesday that the state has not turned over evidence as required by law. And they said that if reams of notes and documents used in the investigation are lost, a fair trial may be impossible.

Early in the investigation three decades ago, authorities suspected that Manning was involved in the slayings.

About two hours after the bodies were found, police were at Manning's home in Atlantic Beach. They talked to Manning and then left.

"Whatever made them light out to Atlantic Beach was bogus," said Tom Loflin, one of Bennett's attorneys.

Shortly after the killings, a tip led to a traffic stop where police pulled over Jerry David Guy. They found bloody clothes and a pistol in his car, Loflin said. Guy had in his possession a bloody knife.

By then, the list of suspects also included a man named Billy Aldridge, Loflin said. It was widely thought at the time that the case involved the Hell's Angels motorcycle gang, which at the time had a fierce reputation. Authorities have said witnesses were afraid to come forward. The police couldn't make cases, and the triple homicide faded into memory.

In 1980, Guy was shot to death in Stokes County. In 2002, Aldridge died in Carteret County. Manning was living a quiet life in Virginia Beach, Va. Bennett remained in Durham County.

The case came back to life in 2004. The Herald-Sun published an article about the case. About the same time, federal authorities arrested Ronnie Dale Broadwell in connection with methamphetamine and weapon charges, according to court records. Broadwell had some information on murders in Durham, he told authorities. Loflin said Broadwell gave names of people he said were involved in the 1976 killings, including Bennett.

Loflin and his co-counsel, Karen Bethea-Shields, think the information from Broadwell may be of questionable value. They are still waiting for information on any promises or deals made with Broadwell.

Durham Assistant District Attorney Mitchell Garrell said the prosecutor in the federal case against Broadwell said no deals were made to get his help. In fact, Garrell said, a federal prosecutor chastised Broadwell at a hearing for waiting so long to come forward with information.

But there are other witnesses.

Manning's ex-wife told investigators that he admitted to her his role in the killings, Loflin told the judge. According to Garrell, another witness will testify that Bennett and Manning were in the same car before and after the crime, and their clothes were bloodstained. They were in the car from which police later took the knife and bloody clothes, Garrell said. He did not disclose the identity of the witness during the hearing.

Staff writer Benjamin Niolet can be reached at 956-2404 or bniolet@newsobserver.com.

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