The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

Local News

April 7, 2008

Family awaits justice

Suspect in death of Ashtabula student in 1985 will finally get his day in court

A trial date has been set for the man Youngstown police believe raped and strangled an Ashtabula girl in their city more than 20 years ago.

Bennie Adams, 50, will face a jury May 5 on charges of aggravated murder, rape, kidnapping and aggravated robbery in connection with the death of 19-year-old Gina Gay Tenney.

A trapper checking his traps found the Edgewood Senior High School graduate’s body floating in the Mahoning River in Youngstown on Dec. 30, 1985.

Tenney was a student at Youngstown State University when her parents, Lucian and Avalon Tenney of Ashtabula, received the terrible news.

Today, the Tenneys are in their 80s, but they are going to the trial. Avalon Tenney will be the first witness for the prosecution.

“She was the last person to speak to Gina,” said Gina’s father, Lucian Tenney. “The prosecutors want to set the stage with her testimony.”

Police detectives always believed Adams, who dated the girl who lived in the apartment below Gina Tenney, raped and strangled her, but in 1985 they couldn’t prove it with certainty, Youngstown City Prosecutor Jay Macejko said.

“Bennie Adams is a predator,” he said. “I expect it was a crime of opportunity.”

In 1985, crime laboratories performed blood-typing tests, but the evidence investigators believed was related to the rape didn’t single out a suspect, Macejko said.

The case was given new life 20 years later, when Ohio Attorney General Marc Dann invited law-enforcement agencies to resubmit cold cases, especially sex offenses, for review now that DNA testing is available, Macejko said. Detective Sgt. Joe DeMatteo quickly thought of Gina Tenney. He was on the job when they pulled her from the river, and the circumstances of her death stuck with him for years, he said.

“She was here as a young college student,” DeMatteo said. “The totality of her death bothered all of us.”

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