Preliminary hearing in Swanson case wraps up
The 1980 killing of 16-year-old South Lake Tahoe gas station attendant Richard Swanson is headed to trial.
On Tuesday, following a preliminary hearing that lasted several weeks, El Dorado County Superior Court Judge James Wagoner found there is enough evidence against Andrew Sanford for prosecutors to continue their pursuit of a murder conviction against him.
Sanford is scheduled to be arraigned March 8 at the main courthouse in Placerville. He has pleaded not guilty to the killing.
During Tuesday arguments, prosecutor Patricia Kelliher said DNA found on duct tape used to bind Swanson’s hands during the alleged robbery of the South “Y” Shell station was consistent with Sanford’s DNA.
Former South Lake Tahoe resident Peggy Burnham also testified Sanford had attempted to take her purse in the Kmart parking for money just a day or two before the murder. When he failed at wrestling her purse from her, he made the comment of “What about the gas station?” to himself, according to testimony. Sanford needed money, so the first thing he thought of, after failing to rob Burnham of her purse, was the gas station, Kelliher said.
Years later, Sanford asked his roommate if she thought God forgave murderers. He told her he and some friends “did something” and someone hay have died, according to the roommate’s testimony. That was his conscience speaking, Kelliher said.
“It’s the people’s position that we have shown beyond reasonable suspicion that Andrew Sanford is responsible,” Kelliher said.
Defense attorney Erik Schlueter began his Tuesday arguments by noting the Swanson killing is a “very, very old case” and it “has its problems.”
“What the case comes down to is DNA,” Schlueter said.
He compared DNA to fingerprints by saying the genetic material is a “good identifier, but it doesn’t tell you the time frame, when it happened.” He cited multiple court cases showing fingerprints did not necessarily mean a suspect was at the scene of a crime during its commission. Sanford had access to the duct tape and other items where his DNA was found because he had worked on his car at the gas station, according to testimony.
There is a “massive amount of contamination” of the DNA on the duct tape pieces introduced as evidence, Schlueter added.
Burnham had been unsure of when she was accosted, Schlueter noted, and he emphasized Sanford told his roommate someone “may” have died when “they” committed a crime, leaving “they” unspecified.
“There is no connection between Mr. Sanford and this horrible crime that was committed,” Schlueter said, adding the “nexus” of who committed the crime had not been proven. “Justice cries that Mr. Sanford not be held for this crime.”
The significance of the DNA, Kelliher said in her rebuttal, was that it was found on the sticky side of the duct tape.
“If it was on the roll (of tape), OK,” she said. But Sanford’s DNA was found on part of the tape he would not have access to unless he tore the tape off, Kelliher said.
The prosecutor also pointed out the tape used to bind Swanson’s hands had no contamination.
After hearing all of the evidence, Wagoner said there is reasonable cause to believe Sanford had committed homicide in commission of a robbery.
Swanson’s parents, who have attended each day of the hearing, rejoiced at Wagoner’s ruling.
“It’s a day we have been waiting for,” said Ron Swanson, Richard’s father, as his eyes watered.
“God told us to be patient,” added Sharon Swanson, Richard’s mother, “wait for the right DNA to come up.” She said it was all possible thanks to Kelliher, the South Lake Tahoe Police Department and the investigators involved in the case.
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