The preliminary hearing concerning the 1980 murder of South Lake Tahoe gas station attendant Richard Swanson continued Thursday with examining chain of custody of evidence and handling of evidence.
The first witness of the day was Bryan Kuhlmann, an investigator for the El Dorado County District Attorney’s Office and former South Lake Tahoe Police Department officer. Kuhlmann contacted defendant Andrew Sanford on Feb. 21, 2001 and took an oral swab for DNA evidence, which he turned over to fellow DA investigator Paul Moschini. Kuhlmann also spoke with Chuck Owens of SLTPD before bringing the duct tape used to bind 16-year-old Swanson before his death to the Department of Justice.
Kuhlmann spoke with many others, including Dr. Patrick Riley, who confirmed the writing on the bottle of Swanson’s blood sample was his; evidence technician Richard Hartman, who confirmed a voice on a tape recording as the late SLTPD Officer Art Ritter’s voice; and FBI Evidence Request Coordinator Carol Colatosti, who tracked the chain of custody of the evidence as it moved from the evidence unit to the latent print unit, to the DNA unit and back within the Bureau.
Next was Larry Tomer, an evidence technician with SLTPD who maintained logs similar to Colotosti. Evidence he tracked included taped interviews, property records and coin envelopes.
Kathleen Dougherty, who archives records for SLTPD, was called next. She testified that records from 1980 “were on microfilm, not on a computer.” From 1986 onward, they are on laser fiche. There is an exception to cold cases — of which this was one — and hard copies of records are kept in boxes. As an intern, before she was officially given her position, she started putting the Swanson case onto the computer system. She also noted that there was a report on Aug. 1, 1980, from Raymond Ficklin, that a 1979 Dodge pickup had been stolen from his repossession lot.
Former SLTPD Chief Dean Shelton testified that he had been Art Ritter’s supervisor in 1980. Shelton was head of the detective unit while Ritter was the sergeant. Shelton signed off on Ritter’s reports on the case. The evidence room, where the cassette tapes of interviews were held, is the same room now as it was then, he said.
The final witness of the day was Moschini, who had sat next to deputy district attorney Trish Kelliher at the prosecutor’s table during the proceedings.
Moschini testified about how he had interviewed nearly everyone connected with the case. Larry Tomer had given him evidence. He was with Kuhlmann when the oral swab was taken. He received the cassettes on Sept. 22, 2011, from Owens.
In 2011, Moschini interviewed Tim Blankenship, who hung out at the South Y Shell where Swanson worked. Blankenship — who had a “fairly extensive history” of getting into trouble as a juvenile — hung out with Don Fickland at the station while Blankenship worked on his car. Sanford also hung out, working on cars with Blankenship.
“Andy would be there quite a lot, during the night time hours,” Moschini said. He said that Blankenship saw Sanford one or two weeks prior to the murder.
Sanford approached Blankenship in a Dodge pickup, asking Blankenship to help “jockey-box” cars, Moschini said, essentially, burglarizing the cars. After refusing, Sanford let Blankenship out of the car. “Tim was somewhat upset” about the encounter, Moschini said. Blankenship’s last interaction with Sanford was when Sanford came up to him in a stolen vehicle, asking him to get in. He refused. There had also been a period where Sanford left Tahoe for a few months, appearing about two months before the murder. Blankenship had little contact with Sanford after he returned.
In January of 2013, Moschini met with Dave Solero, a retired SLTPD captain, regarding a 1991 report of finding the cassette tapes, which had gone missing. Solero gave them to Hartman. The 10 tapes had not been booked into evidence at the time of their interviews, later to be found in an evidence cabinet behind a secretary in the SLTPD office.
Moschini also received a booking photo of Sanford from 1982 from Detective John Durand of the Anaheim Police Department.
The majority of the remaining questions asked of Moschini concerned analysts and technicians he had interviewed. The questions focused on how they analyzed the items to how the items were handled. Latent prints were searched for with argon-ion lasers and making fumes from superglue. Some technicians wore gloves while others worked bare-handed. Some work stations had butcher paper never changed, some had blotter paper changed for every item.
Questions also focused on the chain of custody, where the items went and how they were logged in and out.
He had also interviewed Angelo Rienti after Rienti testified the previous week in the preliminary. They met at the Department of Justice office in Sacramento, reviewing the duct tape. Rienti could not recognize the writing as being his and he “did not see any indication of using Victoria Pure Blue,” a chemical used to find latent fingerprints, Moschini said. “When he saw the photograph (of the duct tape), he became convinced that he packaged it in that condition.” However, Moschini had spoken with an FBI tech, Angie Christianson, who said the packaging was clearly her own doing. After telling Rienti this, “He still kind of maintained his belief that he had done it,” though conceded he was not completely sure, Moschini said.
Defense attorney Erik Schlueter also focused on Moschini’s interviews with Peggy Burnham, who testified on the first day of the preliminary hearing. In the first of three interviews, Burnham had just recovered from surgery and was on pain medication, but it did not seem to affect her mental capacity, Moschini said. He played one of the tapes for her, believing one of the voices to be hers. She was unable to make anything out other than a laugh that sounded like her.
DA investigator Richard Pesce made the tape into a cleaner audio file for the second interview. After listening twice — the second time with headphones — “She was adamant she could recall some (details),” Moschini said.
Under questioning from Kelliher, Moschini said Burnham was “much more vibrant” during the second interview and that he told her that she was not obligated to remember anything unless she “truly remembered” the incident. She remembered the interview, outside of her beauty school in December 1980. She had a “vivid or clear recollection” of her contact with Sanford, where she found him in her car and he tried to steal her purse.
Moschini was excused. The hearing, Kelliher and Schlueter agreed, will likely conclude on Tuesday, Feb. 19. It will begin at 9:30 a.m. in Department 1.
Contact Cole Mayer at 530-344-5068 or [email protected] Follow @CMayerMtDemo.