YCSO: New DNA breakthrough solves homicide cold case that haunted Prescott for decades

Aug 27, 2023, 8:00 AM

Cathy Sposito died while hiking a trail in the Prescott National Forest on June 13, 1987. (Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office Photo) The murder occurred at the Thumb Butte Trail in the Prescott National Forest. ( Photo) Police said Bennett was 16 years old when he murdered Sposito. (Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office Photo) This murder weapon helped investigators identify Bennett as the killer. (Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office Photo) Officials say Sposito wasn't his only victim. He sexually assaulted three other women. Although he caught the law's attention two other times, he got off scot-free. Ultimately, he died by suicide. (Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office Photo) Bennett also tried to kill a third woman at a party, but bystanders intervened and saved her life, according to officials. Sposito is one of two victims who police have identified. The other two are not known to the public. (Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office Photo)

PHOENIX — Officials finally cracked a homicide cold case that “rocked” Prescott back in 1987, according to a recent announcement.

The Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office said they identified the man who killed a 23-year-old college student in the Prescott National Forest 36 years ago.

“This case has so many incredible twists and turns,” Sheriff David Rhodes said during a Saturday news conference.

Cathy Sposito died on June 13, 1987 while hiking Thumb Butte Trail in Prescott. Hikers in the area told police they heard her screaming for help but couldn’t save her in time.

Investigators said her killer shot her in the eye, stabbed her and hit her in the head with rocks and a ratchet wrench.

That killer was 16-year-old Prescott High School student Bryan Scott Bennett, the sheriff’s office said.

Three years later, Bennett sexually assaulted another woman at the same location. She told officials he threatened to kill her if she fought back. His second known victim survived — and a DNA sample from that attack ultimately led investigators to Bennett’s trail.

Officials initially matched the DNA sample to Bennett’s brother, police said. However, a more thorough investigation exonerated him. Officials then turned their attention to Bennett, who had died by suicide in 1993.

Homicide cold case cracked at last

Investigators exhumed Bennett’s body and conducted a complete DNA profile. The results matched him to the DNA profile of both trail attacks, Rhodes said.

However, Sposito and the second victim weren’t the only women Bennett targeted. The serial predator later stalked an inebriated woman at a house party, police said.

The third victim wanted to rest by herself in a private room, but Bennett followed and locked the door so he could sexually assault her, police said.

Although she later told investigators she thought he would kill her, bystanders intervened.

“People broke in the door. He ran past him. That was the first time that he was actually publicly identified and he was reported to the Chino Valley Police Department. He was actually arrested,” Rhodes said. “He was acquitted, unfortunately, based on some discrepancy in the eyewitness testimony.”

His fourth victim, Renee Sandoval, told police about Bennett kidnapping and sexually assaulting her. “Because of a lack of evidence at the time, and discrepancies in the stories again, he faced no consequences,” Rhodes said.

Sandoval attended the Saturday press conference to speak on behalf of Bennett’s victims. “I ask that everybody in the community to pray for all these people that have suffered a crime like this,” she said.

“All the victims he touched, we’re together,” she said. “We’re always going to have a connection.”

Sandoval, who has spoken to the Sposito family over the phone, praised Cathy’s brother for never giving up. She said Sposito will always be in her thoughts.

“Today, she’s free. Cathy, you’re free.”

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YCSO: New DNA breakthrough solves homicide cold case that haunted Prescott for decades