On April 23, Andrew Sanford was found guilty of murder in the first degree.
At 11:13 a.m., two days after beginning deliberation, the jury in the Andrew Sanford trial for the murder of Richard Swanson at the South Y Shell gas station in 1980 returned a verdict.
The clerk read the jury’s decision: Sanford was found guilty of first-degree murder with the special allegations that the crime was committed during a robbery and burglary both found true.
“Disappointed, but nothing surprises me,” defense attorney Erik Schlueter said of the verdict, adding that the decision will be appealed but by a different attorney. Schlueter maintains there is reasonable doubt about Sanford’s guilt. “It was an old case and poorly investigated,” he said.
Prosecutor Trish Kelliher was glad the family was able to get closure 34 years after the death of Richard Swanson. “I am grateful that justice has finally been obtained for Richard Swanson and his family,” Kelliher said. “Richard’s murder was as needless as it was vicious. Richard was a decent, hardworking young man whose life was cut short by this defendant’s selfishness and greed. I commend all of the many individuals who have worked so hard to ensure that the truth was revealed and justice achieved, particularly the jurors who worked diligently and conscientiously through a very difficult trial. And I commend Mr. and Mrs. Swanson for never giving up on their son.”
When asked if there was any closure because of the conviction, Ron Swanson noted, “There sure is.” He said there were “so many people” to give thanks to in convicting his son’s murderer.
“So many,” added Sharon Swanson, Ron’s wife and Richard’s mother. “God is at the top of the list.” She noted that Kelliher did “an excellent job” in prosecuting.
Ron said that it was “hard to believe it’s over,” and that “science caught up.”
Sharon added, “Two years ago, we couldn’t do this. There was not enough (DNA) technology.”
“The victim, 16-year-old Richard Swanson, had only been working three weeks at his first job as the graveyard shift gas station attendant at the South Y Gas Station in the quiet city of South Lake Tahoe,” a press release from the District Attorney’s Office read. “By all accounts Richard was a hardworking and diligent employee who took his job seriously and was an all-around ‘good kid.’”
Sanford was 19 at the time of the crime, and the DA’s Office described him as “involved in small-time crimes such as auto theft and breaking and entering.” He hung out with Don Ficklin, the gas station attendant on the swing shift before Swanson’s graveyard shift.
On Aug. 14, 1980, just before midnight, Swanson arrived at the gas station and began his graveyard shift as usual. Six hours later, Swanson was found dead in a back storage room. He was found beaten and wrapped in duct tape around his hands, midsection and face. The cause of death was determined to be asphyxiation. He had been left to suffocate by whoever robbed the gas station. About $760 in cash was missing from the register.
In January 2011, a hit in a DNA database returned Sanford’s name as possibly matching DNA on the duct tape. Sanford had been arrested in Sacramento County on a charge of domestic violence.
“Nothing can bring their son Richard back, but it is my hope that Richard’s mother and father may find some peace knowing the person responsible for their son’s death is finally being held responsible for his actions,” DA Vern Pierson said in the press release.
“Pierson also personally recognized all those who participated in the investigation and prosecution of this case,” the press release read. “In particular, deputy DA Trish Kelliher for her diligence and hard work bringing this killer to justice.”
Sanford’s judgment and sentencing hearing was scheduled for June 16 at 1:30 p.m. in the downtown Courthouse, Department 1.