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Pinder trial testimony turns grisly

Investigators talk of hunt for bodies of missing couple

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HEBER CITY — Investigators continued testifying Friday about the gruesome details of what they found during a six-week search of a remote section of the Pinder ranch near Duchesne in the fall of 1998.

Prosecutors say the body parts found strewn about sagebrush and buried in the soil belonged to Rex K. Tanner and June Flood, who they allege were killed by their former boss, John Pinder. Investigators believe Pinder shot the two on Oct. 25, 1998, and then blew up their bodies with explosives in an effort to cover up the crime.

Pinder, 42, was allegedly upset at the two for stealing from him. He is standing trial on two counts of murder, capital offenses, and nine other first-degree felonies. The case was moved to Heber because of extensive publicity in Duchesne County.

Filomeno Valenchia-Ruiz pleaded guilty last year to two counts of murder, first-degree felonies, for his role in the killings. As part of his plea deal, Valenchia-Ruiz must testify in Pinder's trial.

Investigators allege Pinder and Valenchia-Ruiz drove to Flood's home, where Pinder beat the victims with a bat before forcing the two into his truck at gunpoint and driving them to the remote section of his ranch. There he allegedly shot the two and then blew up their bodies.

During the opening day of testimony Thursday, Duchesne County sheriff's deputy Dale Johnson testified that while searching the area in Lake Canyon about 15 miles southwest of Duchesne, he found the torso of Tanner behind a bush. He recognized Tanner because he had known him for many years.

Johnson also testified he found a foot and ankle covered with a sock. Tangled around the foot was a wrapper from a brand of explosives.

Investigators say the sock belonged to Flood and the wrapper came from explosives purchased by Pinder.

Testimony Thursday also revealed what led investigators to search the Pinder ranch. Becky Young, a co-worker of Flood's at a Duchesne cafe, said she called police on Oct. 30, 1998, after being unable to reach Flood for five days. When she went to Flood's home along the Strawberry River, she found the place torn apart and in a mess.

Duchesne County Sheriff Ralph Stansfield and Sgt. Wally Hendricks said they responded to Flood's home and, after leaving the home, encountered three men standing near a ranch house on the Pinder ranch. The men denied knowing anything about the whereabouts of Tanner and Flood. A short time later, however, one of the men, David Brunyer, a part-time ranch hand, called dispatchers and said he wanted to talk to Hendricks.

Brunyer, who has not been called to testify yet, allegedly told Hendricks that he helped Pinder wipe down Flood's home of fingerprints and blood. He also led officers to the spot on the ranch where the body parts were found.

During opening arguments Thursday, defense attorney Ron Yengich said Valenchia-Ruiz was the one who killed Tanner, 48, and Flood, 59, and that he was pointing the finger at Pinder. He said Pinder helped Valenchia-Ruiz bury and burn body parts because he had been threatened and feared for his own safety.

Yengich told jurors the testimony they will later hear from Valenchia-Ruiz was "purchased" by the state using "amazing" methods.

During cross-examination Thursday by Yengich, Stansfield testified that while officers were securing the area in Lake Canyon and waiting for a search warrant, Valenchia-Ruiz drove up the canyon but was turned away by officers.

He was arrested a short time later while driving back down the canyon.

Yengich is expected to stress to jurors that it was Valenchia-Ruiz returning to the murder scene that night, not Pinder.

E-MAIL: jimr@desnews.com