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Pinder: a matter of trust?

Prosecutors focus on his close ties to Valenchia-Ruiz

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HEBER CITY — During cross-examination, John Pinder was quizzed about his apparently close relationship with the man Pinder is claiming framed him for murder.

Pinder is charged with shooting to death ranch hands June Flood and Rex Tanner in 1998 and dismembering their bodies with explosives. Closing arguments in the trial are scheduled for Monday.

On Thursday, prosecutor Michael Wims sought to cast Pinder as a desperate defendant, reduced to blaming his employee, ranch hand Filomeno Valenchia-Ruiz, for the murders. Valenchia-Ruiz, the state's star witness, has testified under a plea bargain that Pinder killed Flood and Tanner and then orchestrated a cover-up.

Wims' cross-examination centered on why Pinder had placed so much personal trust in Valenchia-Ruiz, a man he later claimed to fear.

"What you're trying to tell us is that you hired a drug-smuggling, gun-running, wife-beating dog killer who knew how to use explosives," Wims said.

Wims cited earlier testimony that Pinder had given Valenchia-Ruiz "keys to everything" on Pinder's ranch and that he had treated him "differently" from other ranch hands, paying him in cash and supervising Valenchia-Ruiz directly.

"He was your personal employee," Wims said.

"You could put it that way," Pinder answered.

Wims also questioned Pinder about previous testimony that he had given Valenchia-Ruiz a firearm shortly before the murders.

Pinder, however, maintained that he knew nothing of the murders or the destruction of the bodies until the day after they occurred. He admitted he helped clean up the scattered remains of the couple because he was afraid Valenchia-Ruiz might otherwise kill him.

Defense attorney Ron Yengich countered Wims' briefly, offering closing questions that lasted about 15 minutes.

Yengich asked Pinder about his belief that local police were behind an elaborate effort to frame him.

And he suggested that Pinder kept Valenchia-Ruiz close as part of what Pinder has described as his ongoing undercover work against drug use.

"You were still attempting to do something good," Yengich said.

"I certainly was," Pinder answered.