The continuing preliminary hearing concerning the 1980 murder of a gas station attendant in South Lake Tahoe began at the end: with an autopsy.
Dr. Patrick Riley performed the autopsy of Richard Swanson, 16, on Aug. 14, 1980, the day he was discovered dead at the South Y Shell gas station. Alleged murderer Andrew Sanford looked on with defense attorney Eric Schlueter in El Dorado County Superior Court in Placerville Thursday as deputy district attorney Trish Kelliher had Riley explain the report to her.
Swanson suffered numerous internal injuries, mostly hemorrhaging, in the chest, brain, jaw muscles and larynx. All this pointed to the trauma being caused before death. He also had lacerations on his scalp, caused by blunt force. Riley said he was "struck, or he could have fallen against an object." Bone fragments and black specks were found in the lacerations. Microscopic evidence confirmed his prior findings. The toxicology report came back clean. In short, Riley said, Swanson died from asphyxiation by suffocation. He had still been breathing when he was suffocating - meaning he was not already dead when the murderer tried to suffocate him - though whether he was conscious or not was unknown. It would have taken between three and six minutes of suffocating to die, Riley said.
The next witness called to the stand was Richard Munk, a retired El Dorado County Sheriff's deputy SLTPD officer. Munk, a former detective and evidence technician for SLTPD, was assigned to the Swanson case. He assisted Art Ritter, the primary investigator, on the scene of the crime. He swept outside the building for latent evidence, he said, including fingerprints on the gas pumps. He also checked the parking lot and surrounding area.
Munk saw the victim, he testified, in a fetal position inside what he had been told was a locked door to an office next to the service bay of the station. Money in the register was gone, but a stack of "receipts or invoices" was still present. He was on-scene for between four and six hours that day.
He also interviewed people who had been at the station that morning, he said, including Timothy Deal and Rodney Jones. The former had left at the station around 2 a.m., with the only other person there being a still-alive Swanson. Jones stopped in around 6 a.m. to get gas, finding no one there. He left a note, Munk said, stating that he had taken gas and would be by later to pay when an attendant was present. He searched the lube service bay, and after still seeing no one, left between 6:10 and 6:15 a.m. He parked in the shopping center adjacent to the gas station and contacted the police.
There was one more interview, said Munk, of Fredrick Hudson. Hudson was at the station for about 10 minutes around 5 a.m. that morning, and saw someone in the booth. "A white male, between 17 and 19 years old, 5foot 10, brown hair, shirt and jeans," Munk recalled Hudson saying. The shirt, he noted, was not a solid color, but had a pattern.
While Munk was in charge of gathering evidence outside the building, primary evidence technician Richard Hartman searched inside. Using playtex gloves, similar to kitchen gloves, he searched for prints, specifically on Swanson's chin. He did not, however, test the duct tape used to restrain Swanson. He noted there was a cardboard box near Swanson's head soaked in the victim's blood.
Hartman removed the tape from Swanson's waist, wrists and head, putting them in evidence bags. The tape from Swanson's hands was "bunched up, stretched a little bit," he said. "Not straight and flat, from being wound around the wrists." The other sections of tape were also crumpled from use. He folded them neatly before placing them in the bags.
Later that day, Hartman was also in charge of taking photos during the autopsy, using two cameras.
Years later, Hartman wrote a report concerning a refrigerator used to store evidence. Unit 2 had broken down sometime around Feb. 27, 1996, he said. It took a few days, possibly a week, for anyone to notice, he said. Blood collected from the Swanson case had been in the unit. There were a total of 30 or 40 cases' worth of samples in the refrigerator.
After Hartman was excused, Steve Mahnken was called to testify. A retired deputy and coroner for EDSO, Mahnken was dispatched at 7:10 a.m. to act as coroner for the Swanson case. He arrived at the scene and stayed out of the way as the others collected evidence, he said. When he entered the office, he realized he knew the decedent.
"I had known (Swanson) through his parents," Mahnken said. He worked with Swanson's father, Ron, when they were both officers in another county. "I saw (Ron Swanson's) boy at the donut shop or riding his dirt bike." Mahnken often saw Richard at the donut shop where the teen worked mornings before school. Mahnken also responded to an incident where the younger Swanson had crashed his dirt bike a month before his murder.
Mahnken was shown a photo of Swanson at the scene. "Yeah, I recognize it," Mahnken said in a low voice. "That is a picture of Richard." It had been the first time he had seen the scene since the incident.
At the scene, Mahnken helped carry Swanson's body out of the building. He took care of personal effects and the notification of Swanson's parents. As Mahnken related how he gave Richard Swanson's truck keys to Ron Swanson, Ron, in the audience, wiped tears from his eyes.
Mahnken also testified that he knew Andy Sanford. He met the defendant at Sunset Ranch Stables through a mutual friend in "June or July 1980," just months before the death of Swanson. Mahnken saw Sanford a few more times over the summer at the stables, the last time just a few days prior to the incident.
"There are some things that get scarred in your mind," Mahnken said, that he has had to deal with for 32 years. One was the last time he saw Sanford.
The final witness was Angelo Rienti, a retired latent print analyst for the Department of Justice. After a lengthy questioning on how the process worked, what he tested - some of the duct tape was sent for criminal analysis that would prevent obtaining fingerprints - and names of suspects Rienti was asked to see if matches were made, he revealed a key bit of information: Of all the prints he matched, no matches were found for Andrew Sanford.
The preliminary hearing will continue on Feb. 13 at 8:30 a.m. in Department 1.