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Idaho woman guilty in slayings

DUCHESNE -- The family of murder victim Rex Tanner are relieved and pleased with the verdict in an obstruction-of-justice case involving a woman accused of helping one of Tanner's alleged killers avoid police.

Tanner's mother, Lena Tanner, was on the verge of tears following Thursday's guilty verdict to second-degree felony obstruction of justice charge against Barbara J. DeHart and couldn't find the words to express her emotions."I'm just happy," she said.

"I was so happy about it I feel like justice has been served," said Beth Tanner, the sister-in-law of Rex Tanner. "I feel they (the jury) did the best with what they had, but I still will always believe that she did it (destroyed evidence)."

But the 8th District jury acquitted DeHart on a charge she destroyed evidence, including bloody clothes, the murder weapon, and bloody hair and pieces of scalp, as prosecutors maintained.

The Cataldo, Idaho, woman was charged in the aftermath of the murders of Tanner, 48, and June Flood, 59, on Oct. 25, 1998 at a Duchesne County cattle ranch. The victim's were shot and their bodies blown up in an apparent attempt to destroy evidence.

Facing capital murder charges in the slayings are rancher John R. Pinder, 41, and Filomeno Valenchia-Ruiz, 34, the ranch hand accused of helping his boss kill Tanner and Flood in an apparent dispute over stolen property.

DeHart faces a possible sentence of up to 15 years at her sentencing scheduled for Aug. 16.

The seven-woman, one-man jury deliberated eight hours before finding DeHart had transported her boyfriend, Pinder to the Virgin River hotel in Mesquite, Nev., on Nov. 5, 1998, knowing he was wanted for questioning in the murders.

Assistant Utah Attorney General Mike Wims said DeHart printed false information on her hotel registration form, and then later lied to investigators, saying she left Pinder in Las Vegas after she learned he was a suspect.

The jury also determined that DeHart supplied Pinder with a weapon, giving him her small semi-automatic pistol when the two parted company on Nov. 7, 1998.

DeHart's daughter, father, son-in-law, ex-husband testified that DeHart had told them Pinder admitted killing Tanner and Flood and she helped him dump some of the evidence at a car wash and threw the murder weapon in the river. They also said she later told them to tell the police she had made up the story, and was upset when they refused to do so.

DeHart took the stand in her own defense to testify that her family members were lying.

"If I found that stuff in the car I would have gone to the police. I would never be a party to that," DeHart told jurors.

"This is a case about talk and nothing but talk in a dysfunctional family," her attorney Ed Brass said during closing arguments. "There's no physical evidence, the defense failed to provide proof."

Wims told jurors if they believed DeHart was not guilty of destroying evidence they would have to believe that the witnesses contrived an intricate conspiracy theory against her.

But prosecutors didn't convince the jury.

"I believe they had credible witnesses, but they never brought enough evidence to court that she destroyed anything," said jury foreman Doug Swasey. "We just used the facts they presented in court and the state, I don't think, did a very good job of presenting it, and the rest of the jury felt the same way.

Judge Lynn Payne allowed DeHart to remain free on bail, despite a plea by prosecutors who wanted her taken into custody after the guilty verdict.

DeHart is scheduled to appear in 8h District Court Monday for a preliminary hearing on a first-degree felony aggravated assault charge in an unrelated matter.

Ruiz is scheduled to be tried on two capital homicide counts and other felonies in connection with the murders in November. Pinder has a January 2000 trial date on the same charges.