PLACERVILLE — An El Dorado Superior Court jury on Wednesday found Andrew Sanford guilty of first degree murder for killing 16-year-old Richard Swanson in August 1980.
The jury of four men and eight women deliberated for less than two days before rendering its verdict. Sanford’s murder trial had lasted for more than a month.
“Nothing can bring their son Richard back, but it is my hope that Richard’s mother and father may find some peace knowing the person responsible for their son’s death is finally being held responsible for his actions,” El Dorado County District Attorney Vern Pierson said in a formal statement.
At the time of his killing, Swanson had been working for three weeks at his first job as the graveyard shift attendant at the South Y Gas Station in South Lake Tahoe.
Reporting to work shortly before midnight on Aug. 14, 1980, Swanson was later found dead in the back storage room. He had been beaten, wrapped in duct tape and left to suffocate and die with $761.02 missing from the register.
Sanford was 19 at the time of the murder.
“Disappointed, but nothing surprises me,” defense attorney Erik Schlueter told the Mountain Democrat. He said he decision will be appealed but by a different attorney. Schlueter maintains there is reasonable doubt about Sanford’s guilt. “It was an old case and poorly investigated,” he said.
Prosecutor Trish Kelliher was glad the family was able to get closure 34 years after the death of Richard Swanson. “I am grateful that justice has finally been obtained for Richard Swanson and his family,” Kelliher said. “Richard’s murder was as needless as it was vicious. Richard was a decent, hardworking young man whose life was cut short by this defendant’s selfishness and greed. I commend all of the many individuals who have worked so hard to ensure that the truth was revealed and justice achieved, particularly the jurors who worked diligently and conscientiously through a very difficult trial. And I commend Mr. and Mrs. Swanson for never giving up on their son.”
When asked if there was any closure because of the conviction, Ron Swanson noted, “There sure is.” He said there were “so many people” to give thanks to in convicting his son’s murderer.
“So many,” added Sharon Swanson, Ron’s wife and Richard’s mother. “God is at the top of the list.” She noted that Kelliher did “an excellent job” in prosecuting.
Ron said that it was “hard to believe it’s over,” and that “science caught up.”
Sharon added, “Two years ago, we couldn’t do this. There was not enough (DNA) technology.”
Authorities described Sanford as a trouble maker with a criminal record for small time crimes such as auto theft and breaking and entering. He hung around the gas station and was familiar with employee routines. He also moved away from South Lake Tahoe the same day Swanson was found murdered, according to the District Attorney’s Office.
South Lake Tahoe Police investigated the killing, conducted interviews and collected the duct tape used on Sanford that later provided the DNA evidence linking Sanford to the crime in 2011.
Sanford was arrested for domestic violence in Sacramento County nearly 30 years later and his DNA was taken and entered into the Combined DNA Index System, where it was matched to the DNA on the duct tape used to suffocate Swanson, the District Attorney’s Office said.
Sanford is set to be sentenced at 1:30 p.m. June 16.
Tahoe Daily Tribune reporter Tom Lotshaw contributed to this report.