Memory tested in Swanson case
A prosecutor painted Andrew Sanford as someone who was familiar with the South “Y” Shell station and had a history of suspicious behavior, while the defense highlighted conflicting statements by witnesses Wednesday during the second day of a preliminary hearing in a more than 30-year-old killing in South Lake Tahoe.
Sanford is accused of killing 16-year-old gas station attendant Richard Swanson in August 1980. He has pleaded not guilty.
Former South Lake Tahoe resident Ronald Ficklin said Sanford would hang out at the gas station with Ficklin’s brother Don and briefly lived with the brothers and their grandparents.
Under questioning by El Dorado County Deputy District Attorney Patricia Kelliher, Ficklin testified he last saw Sanford coming out of his grandparents’ bedroom the day before Swanson was killed.
Ficklin thought Sanford was stealing from his grandparents and asked his grandfather to kick him out, which he did, Ficklin said. A car was also stolen from the lot of his grandfather’s repossession business soon after Sanford was kicked out of the house, Ficklin testified.
Under cross-examination by defense attorney Erik Schlueter, Ficklin conceded he was unsure of the date when the car was taken from the lot. He also said he was initially considered a suspect in the Swanson case and admitted he did not like Sanford.
Later in Wednesday’s hearing, Don Ficklin testified Sanford would come by the station one or twice during a work week, did not have a job and had asked him for money and gas on more than one occasion.
Don Ficklin said the gas station’s till came up short following one shift several weeks before the killing. Sanford had visited the gas station that day and had briefly looked after the cashier’s booth, Ficklin said.
Schlueter asked El Dorado County Superior Court Judge James Wagoner to strike the testimony about the cash shortage, but was denied.
“Just the fact that he is present at the station is not relevant to anything,” Schlueter said.
During questioning of Ficklin, the defense attorney showed discrepancies between his testimony and previous statements to investigators, including how Ficklin heard of the Swanson’s death and whether or not Sanford ever lived with Ficklin’s grandparents.
Ficklin conceded it was never determined that Sanford took any money from the gas station the day he looked after the cashier’s booth.
When asked whether or not he followed procedure and deposited money into the safe the night of the killing, Ficklin said he was sure he put the money in the safe, but acknowledged his memory from 32 years ago is not very good.
Former South Lake Tahoe resident Peggy Burnham took the stand Wednesday and also had difficulty recalling specifics about the events of 1980, when she was in high school.
Burnham testified about an incident in which she says she walked out of the Kmart at the “Y” and unexpectedly found Sanford in the passenger seat of her new Subaru hatchback, with the windshield wipers going and the radio blaring. She confronted Sanford and he allegedly shook her by both arms and attempted to take her purse, according to Burnham’s testimony. She said she thought the incident took place a few days before Swanson’s death.
Burnham had trouble recalling additional details of the incident and said she could not remember whether Sanford took her purse. She could not identify Sanford, sitting in the courtroom, as the Andy Sanford she considered an acquaintance in high school. She also could not remember if she was interviewed by police about Sanford, but confirmed a voice on a tape recording of a police interview played in court was hers.
Preliminary hearings are used to determined whether there is enough evidence in a case for it to proceed to trial. The preliminary hearing in Sanford’s case is expected to last through the end of the month.