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Girlfriend’s daughter says mom told her Pinder admitted killings

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HEBER CITY — A few days after Rex K. Tanner and June Flood were killed, the girlfriend of Duchesne County rancher John R. Pinder told her daughter that she and Pinder felt a bit like Bonnie and Clyde — "always on the run."

Melissa Cowles, daughter of Barbara DeHart, Tuesday told jurors hearing Pinder's murder case in Heber's 4th District Court that her mother told her Pinder admitted "killing two people on (his) ranch." Cowles also testified her mother said she and Pinder had been "cleaning up evidence" by washing blood stains out of his truck, throwing away a piece of bloody scalp and tossing "the murder weapon" off a bridge into a river.

Prosecutors for the state and Duchesne County rested their case against Pinder Wednesday morning after DeHart's family members gave testimony contradicting that of DeHart, who was released from jail last month after serving a year for obstruction of justice.

DeHart testified Monday that Pinder never admitted killing anyone and that she never helped him destroy evidence. DeHart also testified that Pinder was with her the night Tanner and Flood were killed, Oct. 25, 1998.

Pinder, 42, is accused of shooting the two in Lake Canyon on his ranch, about 15 miles southwest of Duchesne. Pinder is also accused of blowing up the pair's bodies to cover up the crime.

Cowles, a resident of northern Idaho, said her mother called her the morning of Oct. 26, 1998 and was angry at Pinder for being out late the night before. After an initial conversation, her mother called back about 30 minutes later and said "things were bad" and things had happened that she "couldn't imagine," Cowles testified. During telephone calls the rest of that week her mother was "standoffish," Cowles said.

DeHart and Pinder arrived at DeHart's home in northern Idaho on Halloween morning 1998, six days after Tanner and Flood were killed, Cowles said. It was in Idaho where her mother opened up about what Pinder had said and what DeHart had done to help him destroy evidence, the daughter testified.

Shortly after Pinder and DeHart had left Idaho, in DeHart's vehicle and leaving Pinder's truck behind, Cowles said her mother called her from a mobile phone to say "John was innocent." Cowles said her mother was telling a story different from the one she told in Idaho, claiming now that ranch hands Filomeno Valenchia-Ruiz and David Brunyer had killed Flood and Tanner and had planted evidence in Pinder's truck.

Valenchia-Ruiz is serving a life prison sentence after pleading guilty to two counts of murder for his role in the killings. Brunyer is the one who first informed police that body parts belonging to Tanner and Flood had been buried and burned on Pinder's ranch.

However, Cowles' husband and DeHart's father testified that they also heard DeHart make statements similar to her original story. Damion Cowles said he heard his mother-in-law talk of burning clothes, throwing a piece of scalp into a garbage can at a car wash and dropping a gun over a bridge. Bernie Knapp, DeHart's father, said his daughter called him and talked of disposing of clothes and a gun while enroute from Utah to Idaho. Knapp testified his daughter said the gun was used to shoot and blow up the bodies of two "druggies."

"I was really shocked at her attitude," Knapp said.

The case will likely go to the jury sometime next week.

E-mail: jimr@desnews.com