DUCHESNE -- The early resolution of a 1998 double-murder case against an indigent man has helped take the sting out of legal expenses for Duchesne County. The $32,302.10 the county spent last year to defend Filomeno Valenchia-Ruiz was almost a bargain, considering it had anticipated expenses totaling $100,000 just to pay for the services of a criminal defense attorney.
County commissioners ended up signing a contract to retain the services of two attorneys qualified to defend a capital murder case. By law, the county was also responsible for other court costs incurred by the defense, including hiring private investigators and expert witnesses. In fact, about two-thirds of last year's bill was spent on costs other than attorney's fees.The tab isn't paid in full yet. The county auditor's office says bills for the defense of Ruiz are still expected to come in over the next several months, but the fact that the case never went to trial definitely provided some financial relief for the county.
The 35-year-old Ruiz, a Duchesne County ranch hand, and his boss, John R. Pinder, 42, were both charged in the Oct. 25, 1998, deaths of Rex K. Tanner, 49, and his companion, June Flood, 59. Tanner and Flood were former employees of Pinder.
Last November Ruiz pleaded guilty to reduced charges of murder in the deaths. In return for his cooperation, prosecutors dismissed two counts of aggravated murder -- a charge that carried a possible death penalty -- and dropped nine felony counts for crimes that included aggravated kidnapping and aggravated burglary. Ruiz agreed to cooperate fully with prosecutors when Pinder goes to trial this summer on murder and aggravated kidnapping charges.
Pinder, who is incarcerated in the Summit County jail while awaiting trial, has denied involvement in the grisly crimes that occurred on the ranch his family owns. He retained his own attorney.
Prosecutors allege that Tanner and Flood were forced to accompany Pinder and Ruiz to a remote site on the ranch, where they were shot and then their bodies were blown up with explosives. Their remains were found by sheriff 's deputies on Oct. 31, 1998.
From April to May of last year the county paid $10,000 in legal fees to Clark L. Donaldson and Richard P. Mauro, the two attorneys hired to defend Ruiz. The county spent close to $11,256 paying bills for the services of an expert the defense engaged to be its sentencing expert, as required by law in death penalty cases. More than $4,100 went to pay for the services of a private investigator; $2,399 was spent for mental evaluations; and $1,688 for a translator -- Ruiz is a Mexican national who required court documents to be translated into Spanish.
The county also spent an estimated $15,000 in the case last year in overtime to sheriff's deputies and investigators who conducted searches for human remains and other evidence needed to bolster their case.
In the first few weeks following the murders in late 1998, the county racked up about $20,000 in expenses in overtime pay and associated costs for meals, gas and food.
The county didn't step into the picture until a few months into 1999, and for a while it appeared as though the county would be able to escape an onerous indigent legal bill entirely, as Ruiz initially hired his own attorney. Later, a brother said he would help support him financially, but when charges against him were amended to include capital homicide and a host of other aggravated felony charges, Ruiz could no longer afford his legal expenses and was declared indigent by the court.