Trial continues in old Tahoe murder case |

Trial continues in old Tahoe murder case

Cole Mayer, Mountain Democrat

The trial of a man accused of the August 1980 murder of a 16-year-old South Lake Tahoe service station attendant opened its second week Tuesday in El Dorado County Superior Court in Placerville.

Several weeks have been set aside for the trial of Andrew Sanford, of Carmichael, Calif., who was arrested two years ago based in part on DNA evidence left behind on duct tape used to bind the victim, Richard Swanson.

“I don’t remember” and “I don’t recall” were phrases often stated by witnesses during testimony in the first week of Sanford’s trial in the old homicide case.

Those testifying in the first week included Don Ficklin, who worked with Swanson at the South Y Shell Station and who knew Sanford. Ficklin, on the stand for several hours, said Sanford would stop by the gas station but was finally told by Ficklin’s boss that he was no longer welcome after there was a shortage in the cash drawer.

Ficklin also testified he and Sanford would go four-wheeling in Ficklin’s vehicle, which would occasionally break down and wind up at the service station for repairs.

Ficklin, who worked a swing shift, was relieved by Swanson at the start of the graveyard shift. On the night of Swanson’s murder, he said he left 10 or 15 minutes after Swanson relieved him.

The victim’s father, Ronald Swanson, the first witness in the trial, said his son started working only two or three weeks before his murder, and had started the graveyard shift just a few days before.

Ficklin also said Sanford at one point had nowhere to live and was taken in by Ficklin’s grandparents. But he said Sanford was later kicked out of the house. Ficklin also said he thought he remembered Sanford stealing a repossessed pickup, but was unsure.

Also testifying was Richard Hartman, a former evidence technician and crime scene investigator who described how he photographed and collected evidence at the service station.

Defense attorney Erik Schlueter sought to challenge Hartman’s qualifications. But under questioning from prosecutor Trish Kelliher, Hartman — who had started out as a maintenance worker with South Lake Tahoe Police — said he took classes in ballistics, evidence, photography and fingerprinting to qualify for the CSI job.

In reviewing old crime scene photos and evidence, Hartman said in response to Schlueter’s questions that he was unsure why a sample of bloodstains on one box at the station was taken, but a similar stain on another box wasn’t sampled.

“There was quite a bit of blood on the office floor” where Swanson’s body was found, Hartman testified. Kelliher said in her opening remarks that duct tape was used to bind the victim and also to asphyxiate him by covering his mouth and nose.

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around the Lake Tahoe Basin and beyond make the Tahoe Tribune's work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Your donation will help us continue to cover COVID-19 and our other vital local news.