DRAPER — When Filomeno Valenchia Ruiz was sentenced on two counts of murder two years ago, he was not to receive a parole hearing until 2018. But in exchange for his testimony in the conviction of his former boss, Duchesne County rancher John Pinder, the Utah Attorney General's Office has lobbied for leniency on his behalf.
Ruiz and Pinder were both convicted in the October 1998 murders of ranch hands June Flood and Rex Tanner.
On Tuesday, Ruiz had his initial parole hearing before the State Board of Pardons and Parole. During the hearing, Ruiz recounted how he helped clean up the blood after the murder and even helped put body parts into a trash bag after the bodies were blown up with explosives.
Yet despite these grisly admissions, Ruiz maintained that he did not kill Tanner and Flood, focusing the blame for their deaths on Pinder. Ruiz said Rex Tanner was kind to him.
"I used to buy whisky and tobacco for him in town," Ruiz said, adding he did not know Flood very well.
"I want to pay for what I did," Ruiz told pardons board member Don Blanchard, "but I never killed nobody."
Prosecutors alleged that Pinder and Ruiz kidnapped Tanner and Flood and then drove the couple to a remote part of Duchesne County, where they were shot. The two then used explosives to get rid of the bodies.
Ruiz claims Pinder shot the couple and that he helped destroy the bodies out of fear that Pinder would kill him as well. Ruiz is serving a five-year-to-life sentence. Pinder is serving two consecutive life sentences.
The former ranch hand's account contradicts claims by Pinder's attorneys that Ruiz told a prison inmate that Pinder was innocent and was not even present during the murders.
Pinder's attorneys are using that claim to seek a new trial for their client. That assertion was at the heart of a recent hearing on the motion before 4th District Judge Lynn Davis. Concerns for the safety of the inmate who allegedly received information from Ruiz has prompted a delay in the process to allow the inmate to finish serving his time before being called to testify in the motion hearings.
Davis said it may take most of the year to complete the hearing process so that he can rule on the request for a new trial. The process has been broken into stages with the next hearing to be held in April.
At the state prison Tuesday, Blanchard asked Ruiz to respond to Pinder's claim. "He's paying somebody to lie. To say things that I've never said," Ruiz said.
Blanchard said the Utah Attorney General's Office made a request to waive the $10,000 fine Ruiz was ordered to pay. There is also a request, Blanchard said, to have his sentenced transferred to Mexico under international treaty. "That's possible," Blanchard said.
Ruiz is being held in prison in California — a compromise reached by prosecutors so Ruiz could be closer to his family. Ruiz, who came to the United States from Mexico when he was 20, said he hoped that he could be moved to Mexico.
About 10 members of Ruiz's family appeared for his parole hearing. No family of the victims were present, although a letter was sent to the Board of Pardons on their behalf.
Blanchard said he and the four other members of the parole board will consider granting Ruiz a transfer to Mexico and will make a decision in the near future.