Lack of memory nearly 34 years after a murder was again evident in the Andrew Sanford trial Tuesday.
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The first witness of the day was former South Lake Tahoe Police Detective Richard Munk.
Munk testified he took classes regarding the documenting and collecting of evidence and fingerprints. He was the evidence technician for six months in 1979 before he left the position, to be replaced by Richard Hartman.
In the case of the murder of Richard Swanson in 1980, Munk was assigned to the South Y Shell station in South Lake Tahoe to assist Hartman. While Hartman investigated the inside of the station, Munk took the pumps and cashier’s booth. As it had been on his beat when he was a patrol officer, Munk was somewhat familiar with the gas station.
He made notes of credit card receipts and opened the cash register. He didn’t remember there being any cash there. The only thing, he said, that really stood out about outside the main building was a single shoe near cars parked nearby. He later followed up by calling the card holders and others who were at the station that day.
Munk was also questioned by both prosecution and defense about what initials he used on official documents — defense attorney Erik Schlueter contended that “DM” on a photograph evidence sheet stood for “Doc” Munk, Munk’s nickname, which Munk testified to during a preliminary hearing. However, Munk said, in thinking, he did not believe that to be the case and that he would have used his real initials, “RM.”
Under questioning from Schlueter, Munk said he did not remember Hartman having much training.
Munk was unsure how many cameras were used at the scene. He did not sign in to any scene log, which would be used to mark who was at the scene and when.
Two brown paper evidence bags were brought in by Schlueter, but Munk did not know what they contained. At one point, Judge James R. Wagoner had the jury leave the courtroom as he smelled a “distinct odor” from the bags and believed there to be liquid on the bottom of one. Schlueter told the court that the bags each contained a beer can with fingerprints from the scene. Munk was told to wait outside the courtroom. Prosecutor Trish Kelliher noted that, as stated, they were collected from two trash cans at the scene and that the gas station was open to the public, meaning lots of people could have potentially thrown them away. Schlueter said the two men connected to the beer cans each had theft offenses and that they could be the true suspects of the murder. Kelliher fired back saying the prints were irrelevant and there was no connection to the homicide.
The next witness was Ronald Ficklin, twin brother of witness Donald Ficklin. Ron Ficklin met Sanford during his freshman year of high school while riding the bus. Their friendship lasted a few years, dissolving in February of 1979. At the time, Donald did not hang out with Ronald and Sanford.
Sanford “just popped back into town” in July of 1980. At that point, Donald asked their grandparents if Sanford could stay with them. While Sanford was living in Donald’s room, Ronald avoided Sanford both as a choice and because of his busy work schedule. Sanford hung out with Donald at the gas station, Ronald said, and he saw the two when he filled up his car. Sanford usually stood in the door of the cashier’s booth talking with Donald. Ronald saw Sanford in the lube area of the gas station twice, working with Donald on Donald’s Dodge Ramcharger.
Ronald believed the last time he saw Sanford was the day the defendant was kicked out of the Ficklins’ house — what he said was the night before Swanson’s murder and the night a truck went missing from their grandfather’s repossession yard.
After seeing Sanford walk out of his grandparents’ room at around 10 p.m., Ronald went to his grandfather and told him Sanford was likely stealing from them and should leave. After Raymond Ficklin asked Sanford to leave, Ronald followed him out to make sure he left. They yelled at each other, Ronald pushed Sanford, some punches were thrown, but Sanford ultimately left, he said.
That night, the truck was stolen. When asked about a stolen vehicle report dated two weeks prior to the murder, Ronald said he believed the report to have an incorrect date. Ronald did not see Sanford again until court proceedings.
The final witness of the day was Dianna Ficklin, called out of order by the defense, who was Ronald’s girlfriend at the time of the murder and now wife. She noted she saw Sanford a few times at the gas station while driving with Ronald and his car needed gas.
She noted that Sanford came to her house a few times looking for Ronald, but she and Sanford “weren’t really friends.” Just after she and Ronald began dating, Sanford disappeared.
The trial then ended for the day, to be picked up the next morning.
Contact Cole Mayer at 530-344-5068 or [email protected] Follow @CMayerMtDemo.