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Bennie ADAMS





Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Kidnapping - Rape
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: December 29, 1985
Date of arrest: October 4, 2007 (22 years after)
Date of birth: July 14, 1957
Victim profile: Gina Tenney, 19 (Youngstown State University student)
Method of murder: Strangulation
Location: Youngstown, Mahoning County, Ohio, USA
Status: Sentenced to death on October 30, 2008

State of Ohio, Mahoning County
In the Court of Appeals

State v. Adams, 2011-Ohio-5361
State v. Adams, 2012-Ohio-2719

Death sentence upheld in YSU student’s slaying

By Jhn W. Goodwin Jr. -

October 15, 2011

The 7th District Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction and death sentence of the man convicted of the 1985 murder of a Youngstown State University student.

Bennie Adams appealed to the court after having been found guilty and sentenced to death in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court in 2008 for the murder of Gina Tenney.

The appellate court heard oral arguments in the case in August and issued a ruling Friday.

Tenney, a 19-year-old YSU student who was Adams’ upstairs neighbor in an Ohio Avenue duplex, was strangled Dec. 29, 1985. Her frozen body was found in the Mahoning River near West Avenue the next day.

Adams was indicted for the murder in 2007 after a DNA match was found in evidence that police had preserved for 22 years. Adams, 54, is on death row.

Undue delay in prosecution is one of the 21 allegations of legal and procedural error presented by Attys. John B. Juhasz and Lynn A. Maro, who are representing Adams. The court filing included 528 pages.

Juhasz said he had not seen the court’s opinion as of Friday afternoon and would not comment on what Adams would do next. He did say the case could be appealed to the Ohio Supreme Court.

The attorneys, in arguing undue delay in prosecution, pointed out that Adams was not indicted for the murder until 22 years after the crime even though he was arrested for receiving the woman’s stolen property. They also claim Adams’ right to a speedy trial was denied.

The court rejected the claims, however, saying that Adams’ due-process rights were not violated if the reasons for the delay are taken into account. The court’s answer says the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation did not get accreditation for the needed DNA test until 2000 and began accepting more requests for cold-case analyses in 2004 when grant money was available.

Other allegations of error pertain to jury selection and instructions, admissibility of trial testimony and evidence, trial location and the constitutionality of the death penalty.

The defense attorneys claimed Adams’ trial should have been moved to a different location because of pretrial publicity, but the appeals court said changing venue, or electing not to do so, for the trial attorneys was a matter of strategy.

Adams’ attorneys also claimed the death penalty to be cruel and unusual punishment. The appeals court, however, ruled that the claim is lacking in merit.

Members of the Tenney family did not wish to comment on the court’s decision Friday.


Death for Adams

Man sentenced for '85 murder

By Joe Gorman -

October 31, 2008

YOUNGSTOWN - Lawyers for Bennie Adams claimed throughout his trial their client was a changed man.

Mahoning County Common Pleas Judge Timothy Franken disagreed, sentencing Adams to death in the 1985 murder of 19-year-old Gina Tenney.

''A rehabilitated man shows remorse and accepts responsibility,'' Franken told Adams Thursday. ''Mr. Adams, you have no remorse and you accepted no responsibility for your wrongdoing. Mr. Adams, you are not rehabilitated. You are no different from the Bennie Adams of 1985.''

After 11 hours of deliberating, a jury recommended on Wednesday that Adams be sentenced to death and Franken followed that recommendation. He set an execution date of March 2, 2009, which will almost certainly be pushed back because of Adams' automatic appeal.

Adams said ''no'' when asked if he had anything to say before Franken announced the sentence. As he was led away by deputies, one of his lawyers, Anthony Meranto, shook Adams' hand and said, ''I'm sorry, man.''

His mother, Lula Adams, met briefly with reporters and said her son is innocent.

''I do believe that before he's put to death the truth will come out,'' Lula Adams said.

Tenney's parents were not permitted to address the court. Franken said victim-impact statements are not allowed in capital cases.

Adams was arrested last October and charged with Tenney's death after police were able to link him to the crime through DNA evidence collected in 1985. He was convicted of aggravated murder last week for the death of Tenney, who was found floating in the Mahoning River Dec. 30, 1985.

Prosecutors say Tenney, of Ashtabula, was tied up, raped and strangled by Adams and then dumped in the river. She lived in the same Ohio Avenue duplex as Adams and witnesses testified during the trial that she was afraid of Adams because he would call her and stare at her and her friends.

The day Tenney's body was found, detectives questioned Adams and found Tenney's bank card in his coat. They also found her television in his apartment and a pot holder in his trash can that had Tenney's hair and blood on it. The matching pot holder was found in Tenney's apartment.

Assistant Prosecutor Dawn Cantalamessa, who was helped by Assistant Prosecutor Martin Desmond, said she was pleased with the sentence.


Bennie Adams was sentenced to death for the 1985 kidnapping, rape and strangulation death of YSU Co-ed Gina Tenney. Adams was not arrested until October 2007, 22 years after Gina's murder.

Gina's body was found floating in the Mahoning River on December 30, 1985 by a muskrat trapper checking his traps in the freezing water.

Gina had graduated from Edgewood Senior High School in Ashtabula and was attending Youngstown State University at the time of her murder. Gina's father Lucian said, "I'll never forget that day. We had to sit there in the coroner's officer until midnight...she had been out of the water since early morning but they had to warm her up. When we saw her, she was pretty as a picture, like she was asleep."

Gina's mother Avalon had last spoken with her daughter at 6:30 pm on December 29. Gina had told them she was on the way to meet a friend.

Two weeks after Gina's body was discovered, the coroner ruled that her death was caused by asphyxiation. She had ligature marks on her neck and around her wrists. She had contusions all over her torso and her ankle was broken after she died.

Authorities suspected Bennie Adams, who dated a girl who lived in the apartment below Gina's. However, forensic testing was not adequate at the time. Adams, then 28, was found in possession of Gina's bank card and her car keys were found in his trash can.

However, Adams could not be definitively connected with the actual rape and murder. Additionally, the mate to a potholder from the downstairs apartment was found in Gina's apartment. Adams also had a television believed to be from Gina's apartment. He was charged with possession of stolen property but never went to trial. Gina's friends knew that Adams had been harassing her prior to the murder and said that Gina had changed her phone number to stop the calls.

With the improvements in crime science, the Ohio Attorney General's office began a program allowing law enforcement agencies to resubmit cold cases for DNA testing. The detectives from Gina's murder had kept tabs on Adams over the years and jumped at the opportunity to check on his possible involvement in the case.

Adams was a registered sex offender after being released in 2004 after spending 18 years in prison for the rape, kidnapping and robbery of a school principal in 1985. D-N-A samples taken from Adams, 50 years old on the day he was arrested, tested positive as a match to the DNA found on Gina's body and clothing. The rape kit had been preserved for over two decades.

After Adams was convicted in October 2008, Gina's sister Gliva said, “I always wanted a brother or sister, so when Gina was born, I was thrilled. I will always miss her. There’s not a day that goes by I don’t think of her. And I want everyone to know what a wonderful, wonderful person Gina was. She was vivacious, bubbly, the most loving, gracious, giving, caring person, and I will miss her until the day I die.”

The detectives who investigated the case were happy to finally find justice for Gina's family. “It’s a day that we’ve thought about for many years. We’ve never lost sight of who Gina Tenney is and who Gina Tenney could have been. We reflect today that she would have been 42 years old today,” said Capt. Kenneth Centorame, chief of detectives. “As we remember Gina, this will be something that we can fall back on,” Gina’s father Lucian said of the verdict. “We visit her grave just about every day. And a lot of people say that’s odd. But it’s a place to go and reflect on our life and on Gina’s life, and we loved her very much,” he said, adding that she worked and studied hard. “We know she’s at home now. ... She was — and deserved to be — happy today,” he added.


Bennie Adams


Bennie Adams


The victim

Gina Tenney, 19.



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