Second day shows lack of memory

By From page A1 | March 24, 2014

The second and third days of the Andrew Sanford murder trial focused on a co-worker of the victim and the evidence technician that analyzed the scene of the crime.

“I don’t remember” and “I don’t recall” were the most common phrases, sometimes stuttered, of the second day of the trial after the prosecution called Don Ficklin to the stand. In 1980, a teenage Ficklin worked at the South Y Shell Station in South Lake Tahoe with 16-year-old murder victim Richard Swanson.

Ficklin, who worked the swing shift, was relieved by Swanson on the graveyard shift. On the night of Swanson’s murder, he said he left 10 or 15 minutes after Swanson relieved him.

Both Ficklin and his twin brother Ron knew Sanford, with Ficklin remembering going to high school with the defendant. “On occasion, we would hang out together,” he said. They would go to the beach, ski and “those sort of things,” Ficklin said.

At some point, Sanford had nowhere to live, so Ficklin’s grandparents — who Don and Ron lived with — took Sanford in. Ficklin’s grandfather ran a vehicle repossession business, which Don helped with. But, after a time, Sanford was kicked out of the Ficklin’s house. Ficklin thought he remembered Sanford stealing a repossessed pickup truck, but was unsure.

Sanford visited Ficklin at the gas station during work hours. They hung out and Ficklin let Sanford into the attendant’s booth. While there, Ficklin occasionally put in a draw slip and let Sanford get gas — the money would then come out of Ficklin’s paycheck. Sanford also borrowed cash.

Ficklin did remember a time when the cash drawer was short, and found out from his boss the next time he came to work, the implication being that it was Sanford who took the money as it was a day when Sanford visited.

Afterward, Ficklin’s boss told Sanford he was no longer welcome at the gas station. To Ficklin’s knowledge, Sanford did not come back.

Under questioning from defense attorney Erik Schlueter, Ficklin said he and Sanford went four-wheeling in Ficklin’s Dodge Ramcharger. The car was occasionally broken during such outings, prompting Ficklin to take the car back to the gas station to fix it. While Schlueter was trying to make a case that Sanford was the main person to fix Ficklin’s car, Ficklin said he did the main mechanic work with Sanford — who Ficklin admitted is a good mechanic — sometimes helping.

Schlueter pointed out that Ficklin had four different stories of how he found out about the murder. Ficklin admitted he didn’t remember how he found out.

After some five hours of questioning, Ficklin was excused.

The next witness was Richard Hartman, a former evidence technician/crime scene investigator. He was previously a maintenance man with South Lake Tahoe Police Department, but became a CSI three years prior to the murder — something Schlueter capitalized on in trying to prove Hartman was not qualified for the job.

Under questioning from prosecutor Trish Kelliher, however, he noted he had classes outside of the department before even becoming a CSI — ballistics, evidence and photography classes and a Department of Justice fingerprinting class.

On Aug. 14, 1980, he arrived at the scene around 7 a.m. He began photographing evidence before touching anything. He then diagrammed the scene and collected evidence. The only evidence that had been moved before his arrival, he said, was a padlock.

Hartman found and photographed duct tape, wood chips, bloodstains, bloodstained paper and linen towels and the body of Richard Swanson. “There was quite a bit of blood on the office floor,” he said of the room Swanson was found in. Jumper cables were found on Swanson’s legs.

A chalk outline was drawn and the body moved. A Band-Aid and drops of blood were found in the office, along with a bloody print from a rubber dishwashing glove on the office’s phone receiver. A silver jacket was found next to the body. A box next to Swanson’s head had bloodstains.

The third day of the trial continued Hartman’s testimony. He said he wore gloves while collecting evidence and dusting for fingerprints.

At about 8:50 that morning, he left to go to Wilson’s Family Mortuary, where he, Sgt. Art Ritter, pathologist Dr. Patrick Riley and Grant Wilson attended the autopsy.

The tape binding Swanson was cut off and stored in brown paper bags. Despite being dusted for prints — and leaving fingerprint powder on Swanson’s chin — no prints were found on the tape. More wood chips of unknown origin were found.

He left the mortuary as the autopsy was concluded around 10:30 a.m. However, documents showed it ended at 1:30 p.m. Hartman said it did not change what he remembered. At about 10:45 a.m., he returned to the gas station. He left around 9 p.m.

The duct tape was sent to the FBI for processing. It was returned on Feb. 21, 1985. On Jan. 15, 1991, Harman also booked taped interviews by Capt. David Solaro regarding Peggy Burnham.

Schlueter then questioned Hartman as Kelliher attempted to have Hartman accepted as a fingerprint expert. In the end, she moved on without him being recognized as such, despite doing “hundreds” of fingerprint comparisons and having taken the Department of Justice class.

Due to witness schedules, the prosecution then called Solaro to the stand. He noted he handled the 10 tapes in the intelligence file. In 1980, he was lieutenant of the patrol division and thus was one of a few people with access to it. He retired as police chief. He noted that, at one point, he removed the tapes and gave them to Hartman as they were filed in the wrong place.

Next was Burkes Shelton, also a retired SLTPD chief. In 1980, he was captain in the service division. He reviewed reports, including Ritter’s report of the murder. He, too, had keys to the intel file, having been chief after Solaro.

Although he admitted it was not a good system, the tapes were documented only in supplemental logs in files and evidence logs. Not all interviews were taped, he noted. He also said that Hartman was the lead CSI of the force.

Hartman was then recalled. His training was again called into question.

Schlueter then spent time with Hartman examining photos — specifically where it appeared objects such as a bucket had been moved when they were not supposed to. Moving the body also produced a blood smear on the ground — they were supposed to move a body with a sheet or body bag to prevent this, but had instead just placed Swanson on the ground. Bloodstains on boxes and filing cabinets were not sampled. Of two boxes with bloodstains, only one was collected. Hartman was unsure why.

The third day of testimony ended with Hartman still on the stand. The trial continues Tuesday, March 24 at 8:30 a.m.

Cole Mayer

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