By Adam Jensen
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A question about whether God forgives murderers was part of a preliminary hearing in the 1980 killing of a South Lake Tahoe gas station attendant.
The question was posed to Jenna Weller by Andrew Sanford during a conversation the former roommates had during the summer of 2010, according to Weller’s testimony in El Dorado County Superior Court in Placerville on Tuesday.
Sanford is accused of killing 16-year-old Richard Swanson during robbery of the former South “Y” Shell station on Aug. 14, 1980.
El Dorado County prosecutors charged Sanford with murder in connection to Swanson’s death in March. Sanford, who was 50 years old at the time charges were filed, has since pleaded not guilty.
During the 2010 conversation, Weller said Sanford told her “him and his friends did something and he thought someone may have died.”
“He said a kid may have died and asked me if I thought that God would forgive him,” Weller said later in the hearing.
She told Sanford she thought God did forgive murderers, but did not press him for details about his comments, according to her testimony.
During cross-examination of Weller, Sanford’s attorney, Erik Schlueter, highlighted that Weller’s comments lacked details and did not include a confirmation that anyone had died.
He asked Judge James Wagoner to strike her testimony from the record, saying there was an “insufficient nexus” to connect her conversation with Sanford to the case.
“There’s just no tie-in of anything: Time, date, place,” Schlueter said. “There’s nothing of relevance.”
“Comments did not come out that he murdered anybody,” Schlueter said.
El Dorado County Deputy District Attorney Patricia Kelliher was successful in getting Wagoner to allow Weller’s testimony on the conversation, saying Sanford’s statements were relevant to his state of mind and unique enough to be relevant to the case.
Also at Tuesday’s hearing, Kelliher called former South Lake Tahoe Police Department evidence technician Richard Hartman, who described how Swanson was found in a back office of the gas station that August morning 33 years ago.
“The office was in disarray,” Hartman said. “Things had been tossed around. The victim was on the floor in a pool of blood.”
Swanson was lying in the fetal position, Hartman said. His arms had been bound to his sides with duct tape and his face was wrapped in duct tape from just underneath his eyes to his chin, the retired evidence technician said. Swanson had also suffered head trauma and had a contusion in the area of his left eye, Hartman said.
Additional witnesses are expected to take the stand Wednesday. Cross-examination of Hartman is scheduled to continue Thursday.
The preliminary hearing is expected to last through the end of February. At the conclusion of the hearing, Wagoner will determine if there is enough evidence for the case to proceed.