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Convicted killer misses hearing for new trial

Published November 22, 2011 4:26 pm

Clerical glitch • Utah Department of Corrections officials failed to bring him to court.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Attorneys for John Pinder, 53, convicted in the grisly 1988 murders of two ranch hands in eastern Utah, are seeking a new trial based on what they say is recently discovered evidence.

But the Utah Attorney General's Office is seeking a summary judgment that, if successful, would disallow Pinder's legal team from a new evidentiary hearing.

Fourth District Judge Lynn Davis will hear oral arguments on the attorney general's motion Nov. 29 at 2 p.m. in Provo. The original hearing scheduled for Tuesday in Heber was moved back after Utah Department of Corrections officials did not bring the inmate to court due to what appeared to be a clerical glitch.

Pinder was convicted of the October 1988 slayings of Rex Tanner, 59, and June Flood, 48. In June 2001, he was sentenced to two consecutive life terms.

According to testimony at the August 2000 trial, Pinder killed the pair on Oct. 25, 1998 and blew up their bodies with explosives the following day.

At trial, Filomeno Valenchia Ruiz admitted complicity in the murders and named Pinder as the mastermind. Ruiz was sentenced to five years to life in prison.

In a post-conviction petition filed this year in 4th District Court, however, Pinder claims that new evidence would have swayed a jury at his 2000 trial. That evidence is testimony from two Utah State Prison inmates that Ruiz told them Pinder did not kill Tanner and Flood.

In court pleadings, defense attorneys Andrew Parnes and Brett Gold also call into question the veracity of other trial witnesses and point to inconsistencies in the criminal investigation.

But according to arguments filed by assistant attorney general Brett DelPorto, Pinder's petition does not meet the legal burden required from a convict seeking a new trial. Unlike a criminal trial where a defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty, a petitioner in a post-conviction pleading must demonstrate new evidence would have swayed a jury.

Among other things, Pinder's petition focuses on new testimony that contradicts that of many other witnesses at trial. But citing the Utah Supreme Court ruling in Utah v. Boyd, DelPorto noted that the new witnesses had no personal knowledge of the murders.

Further, DelPorto argues that Pinder's claims don't constitute new evidence under Utah law because they were — or could have been — known at the time of trial.

"Pinder must proffer newly discovered evidence which, if true, would create a genuine issue of material fact. Pinder has not met this burden."

csmart@sltrib.com