The preliminary hearing regarding a man accused of a 1980 murder ended Tuesday with the setting of an arraignment hearing.
Defense attorney Erik Schlueter began the hearing for Andrew Sanford, delayed multiple times due to Schlueter being sick the previous week, by telling the court that he would not be cross-examining a previous witness as there had been problems with the expert Schlueter was consulting.
Deputy district attorney Trish Kelliher then told the court that there had been an issue with one of the transcripts of the proceedings, concerning the hearing on Feb. 13. One of the exhibits had been noted wrong in the transcript; the court reporter listened to audio of the proceedings and confirmed that Kelliher was correct and that the transcript was wrong. Judge James R. Wagoner said the correction would be made before the preliminary transcript as a whole was certified.
Exhibits were then submitted by Kelliher and, despite objections from Schlueter, were admitted into evidence.
With housekeeping issues done, Kelliher informed the court that the people would rest on the issue. Wagoner then opened the court for arguments, with Kelliher speaking first.
On Aug. 14, 1980, Sanford committed homicide while in the commission of a robbery at the South “Y” Shell gas station in South Lake Tahoe, Kelliher asserted. Blood from injuries sustained to 16-year-old Richard Swanson, the gas station attendant, as well as the autopsy showing his death was from asphyxiation, showed he did not die from natural causes.
Testimony showed that the teller’s booth was open and no money was found, and the owner of the gas station testified that money was missing. Multiple testimonies placed Sanford at the station while working on cars. Peggy Burnham testified that she had been accosted by Sanford for money just a day or two before the murder. When he failed at wrestling her purse from her, he made the comment of “What about the gas station?” to himself. After the murder, no one in the area saw Sanford.
Years later, Sanford asked Jenna Weller if God would forgive murderers. He said he and some friends “did something,” Kelliher told the court, and Sanford thought someone had died because of it. That was his conscience speaking, Kelliher said.
The DNA found on duct tape used to bind Swanson’s hands together was consistent with Sanford’s DNA, Kelliher said. “It’s the people’s position that we have shown beyond reasonable suspicion that Andrew Sanford is responsible” for the murder of Swanson during the commission of a robbery.
Schlueter began his argument by noting that it was a “very, very old case” and that it “has its problems.” He questioned some of the facts, such as whether Sanford was involved in any robbery.
But, he said, “What the case comes down to is DNA.” He compared DNA to fingerprints in that DNA is a “good identifier, but it doesn’t tell you the time frame, when it happened.” He cited multiple court cases showing fingerprints did not necessarily mean the suspect was at the scene of the crime while the crime happened. He had access to the tape and other items of the gas station as that is where he worked on the car.
There was indication that gloves had been used, as indicated by use of a telephone. When the tape was touched, no gloves were used. When, he asked, did the DNA get on the tape? He noted there was a “massive amount of contamination” of the DNA on the tape pieces, and that no protocols had been established at the time for handling the evidence — even at the Department of Justice.
Burnham had been unsure of when she was accosted, Schlueter noted, and he emphasized that Sanford said someone “may” have died when “they” committed a crime, leaving “they” unspecified.
“There is no connection between Mr. Sanford and this horrible crime that was committed,” Schlueter said. The “nexus” of who had committed the crime had not been proven. “Justice cries that Mr. Sanford not be held for this crime.”
The significance of the DNA, Kelliher said in her rebuttal, was that it was on the sticky side of the duct tape, and it was not a movable object as in some of the cases cited. “If it was on the roll (of tape), OK,” she said. But it was found on part of the tape that he would not have access to unless he tore the tape off. Despite Schlueter’s attempts to show that the DNA had been contaminated, Kelliher pointed out that the tape in question, used to bind Swanson’s hands, had no contamination — only the pieces used to bind his midsection and face and the roll itself.
Sanford needed money, so the first thing he thought of, after failing to rob Burnham of her purse, was the gas station, Kelliher said.
The judge said that, in the cases cited, a single fingerprint was insufficient evidence. “If that was all we had, there’d be hay to be made,” Wagoner said. But, the significance of the other evidence, shown in great length during the preliminary hearing, with the timing of Sanford being in and out of the town, added up. He noted that it was indisputable that a crime was committed — as Schlueter had admitted — and that there was reasonable cause to believe that Sanford had committed the crimes of homicide in commission of a robbery of Richard Swanson.
An arraignment was set for March 8 at 1:30 p.m. in Department 1.
“It’s a day we have been waiting for,” said an elated Ron Swanson, Richard’s father, as his eyes watered.
“God told us to be patient,” added Sharon Swanson, Richard’s mother, “wait for the right DNA to come up.” She said it was all possible thanks to Kelliher, the South Lake Tahoe Police Department and the investigators involved in the case.