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Pinder says he feared police, Mexican Mafia

Rancher testifies he only helped dispose of bodies

SHARE Pinder says he feared police, Mexican Mafia

HEBER CITY — John R. Pinder says he did not kill two former ranch hands but helped dispose of their bodies out of mistrust for police and fear of the Mexican Mafia.

"I felt I was going to be killed if I didn't help," testified Pinder Wednesday in his murder trial, speaking of helping his right-hand man dispose of the bodies of Rex K. Tanner and June Flood.

Pinder said ranch hand Filomeno Valenchia-Ruiz came to him the day after Tanner and Flood were killed and asked for help disposing of body parts. He said he helped Valenchia-Ruiz bury body parts and later blow up body parts because he feared Valenchia-Ruiz and the immigrant's connections to crime rings in the United States and Mexico.

"There were some people involved with Filo that were some pretty serious people," Pinder said.

Defense attorneys say Valenchia-Ruiz, 36, killed Tanner, 48, and Flood, 59, on Oct. 25, 1998, over a drug dispute. He pleaded guilty last year to two counts of murder for his role in the killings and is serving a life prison sentence.

Prosecutors allege that Pinder was upset at Flood and Tanner, drove to Flood's home near the Strawberry River and beat Flood and Tanner with a bat before driving them to a remote section of his ranch about 15 miles southwest of Duchesne where he shot them. He then allegedly blew up the bodies of the former ranch employees with explosives. He is accused of burning some body parts, burying some and tossing some in the river.

Pinder, 42, is charged with two counts of murder, capital offenses, and nine other felonies.

Valenchia-Ruiz testified earlier in the trial, now in its third week, that he only "accompanied" Pinder. He said the ranch owner beat and shot Tanner and Flood and then destroyed their bodies with explosives.

From the witness stand Pinder said he had no contact with either Tanner or Flood for more than two weeks before the killings. He said the day of the killings he stayed home after he and Valenchia-Ruiz got into an argument over the ranch hand fighting with his teenage girlfriend. The two also argued when Valenchia-Ruiz left the cage door open to Pinder's pet lion. He said Valenchia-Ruiz was "mean" and "drunk" that day and threatened to kill him.

"He said he was going to put a red light on me," referring to a laser site on a gun, Pinder said.

The following morning Valenchia-Ruiz asked him to drive up to Lake Canyon to fix the ranch's bulldozer, Pinder testified. He followed the ranch hand's orders out of fear.

"He said he wanted to bury Rex and June," Pinder said.

Upon arriving at the Lake Canyon site, Pinder said he saw debris, body parts and flesh scattered everywhere.

"It was sick. It made me sick," he testified.

Pinder said he asked Valenchia-Ruiz what had happened.

"He said he put a bomb on them," Pinder said.

After helping Valenchia-Ruiz bury body parts, Pinder said he later helped him blow up some remaining body parts.

The ranch owner, once a drug informant for federal agents, said he did not go to police because he believed they were already attempting to set him up and seize his ranch.

"I knew they were going to try," he said.

He testified Wednesday that he considered taking the law into his own hands that day. Now, however, he is not proud of what he did to assist Valenchia-Ruiz.

"I am sickened by it," he testified.

Pinder told jurors he hired Valenchia-Ruiz and kept him around the ranch because of the immigrant's connections to drug dealers.

"He was selling drugs, he had them available all the time and I used them," he testified.

The ranch owner admitted to jurors that he does not know the whereabouts of his 10mm-caliber handgun. He said he last saw the gun a couple days before the killings on a desk top at his ranch house.

Prosecutors allege the handgun was used to kill Tanner and Flood and that Pinder threw it in a lake in Idaho while he was running from police.

Closing arguments in the case are set for Friday morning and jurors should begin deliberating Friday afternoon. If convicted, Pinder faces a possible sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole. Prosecutors decided last year not to seek the death penalty.


E-mail: jimr@desnews.com