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Pinder in jury’s hands

Deliberations in double killing go into second day

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HEBER CITY — The testimony is finished and closing arguments have been made. Now a Wasatch County jury must decide if Duchesne rancher John R. Pinder is indeed guilty of killing two ranch employees and trying to hide the crime by blowing up the bodies and burying the remnants on a remote section of his ranch.

The case went to the jury late Monday and deliberations were continuing Tuesday.

Defense attorney Ron Yengich says police consider rancher John R. Pinder a "bad man" for calling Duchesne County sheriff's deputies "dirty cops" and they decided early to "get him" for the killings of Rex K. Tanner and June Flood.

He told Heber City jurors Monday to put themselves, or imagine their children, in Pinder's shoes — being unfairly targeted by police. He said Pinder admits helping dispose of body parts from Tanner and Flood, and says for that, his client was stupid.

"Does it make him a killer? No it doesn't," Yengich said.

Pinder, 42, is hoping his defense attorney's loud and emotional words during closing arguments will give jurors the reasonable doubt they would need to acquit him of two counts of murder, capital offenses, and nine other felonies related to the murders.

Pinder is accused of going to Flood's home along the Strawberry River on Oct. 25, 1998, beating her and Tanner with a bat, driving them to a remote section of his ranch about 15 miles southwest of Duchesne where he shot them and blew up their bodies.

Prosecutor Michael Wims reminded jurors that Pinder confessed the crime to several witnesses and the witnesses' testimony corroborated each other.

"Could all of them be wrong?" Wims asked jurors.

The main witness was Filomeno Valenchia-Ruiz, Pinder's main ranch hand, who is serving a life prison sentence for his role in the killings. He testified that he saw Pinder beat Tanner and Flood and then shoot them before blowing them up.

Ranch hand David Brunyer said he helped Pinder and Valenchia-Ruiz clean up body parts. He was the one who eventually led police to the location where the body parts were found. Brunyer's 14-year-old daughter said she wrote down what her father told her the night after he helped clean up body parts.

Newley Welch, a former cell mate of Pinder's, said Pinder confessed the crimes to him. The daughter and father of Barbara DeHart, Pinder's girlfriend, both said they were told by DeHart that Pinder admitted to her that he killed Tanner and Flood and blew up their bodies.

Yengich said Welch, Valenchia-Ruiz and Brunyer are all liars. He even called Brunyer a "cockroach" for using his own daughter to protect his own hide. He said DeHart made statements to her daughter and father based on "assumptions," not things she was told by Pinder.

Yengich called the state's case against Pinder "dog poop" and said police were on Pinder's scent from the beginning and never considered anyone else in the murders. He said Valenchia-Ruiz denied being involved in the killings until police put the words in his mouth and told him Pinder was going to try to set him up.

"These guys have a suspect in a murder case and they're not asking him what happened, they're telling him," Yengich said.

Yengich told jurors that Valenchia-Ruiz was the sole killer of Tanner and Flood. He did it because they likely owed him drug money. The attorney said Pinder helped dispose of body parts because he feared police would seize his ranch and "that's how much he loved his ranch."

"The killer is Filo Ruiz and (Pinder) was not with Filo Ruiz when he killed them," Yengich said.

Wims told jurors that to believe the defense theory that police conspired to pin the murders on Pinder, they would have to believe that all of the witnesses were part of it.

"It just doesn't pass the common sense test," Wims said.

If Pinder is convicted of the murder charges, jurors would then have to decide whether he spends life in prison without the possibility of parole or life in prison with a possibility of parole.

E-mail: jimr@desnews.com