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Judge weighs new hearing for man who killed 2, blew up their bodies

Published: Tuesday, Nov. 29 2011 5:10 p.m. MST

John Robert Pinder, 53, appears Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2011, before 4th District Judge Lynn W. Davis in Provo for an appeals hearing. Pinder, 53, was convicted of kidnapping and murdering former ranch employees Rex Tanner and June Flood in 1998.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

PROVO — Attorneys for a man convicted of murdering two of his employees and blowing up their bodies with explosives to dispose of them, argued Tuesday for a chance to present what they feel is new evidence in the case.

"We need an evidentiary hearing and that's what we're here to ask for," attorney Andrew Parnes told 4th District Judge Lynn Davis. "This is a case where there are a lot of statements that were made on both sides, but there is very little physical evidence."

He said the physical evidence points not to Pinder, but to his employee Filomeno Valenchia Ruiz.

Pinder, 54, was sentenced to serve two consecutive life sentences with the possibility of parole in the kidnapping and murder of Rex Tanner and June Flood in their Duchesne County home on Oct. 25, 1998. Ruiz and Pinder took Tanner and Flood to the Pinders' JJNP Ranch west of Lake Canyon, where they fatally shot them and then used explosives to try to dispose of their bodies.

Ruiz, 47, pleaded guilty to two counts of murder, a first-degree felony, in a plea deal with prosecutors that led to the dismissal of eight other felony charges against him and secured his testimony against Pinder. He was paroled in October 2008.

Pinder — who gained notoriety in Duchesne County before the murders because he owned an African lion as a pet — claimed at trial that Ruiz acted alone and that he lived in fear of him. A jury, however, convicted Pinder of 11 felonies, including two counts of capital murder.

Pinder filed an appeal asking for a new trial. That appeal made its way to the Utah Supreme Court which, in 2005, upheld Pinder's conviction even in light of new evidence claims.

"Finally, we hold that the evidence underlying Pinder's newly discovered evidence claim either is not 'newly discovered' or is entitled to such little weight as to make a different result on retrial highly improbable," the Utah Supreme Court ruled.

But Pinder's attorneys say this post-conviction relief petition, filed in 2006, involves testimony from two inmates who reported that Ruiz told them Pinder wasn't involved. Attorneys are also alleging that law enforcement officers doctored evidence to fit their timeline.

"Framed. Full-on," Paul Ingels, a private investigator hired by Pinder's attorneys said of Pinder.

Assistant attorney general Brett DelPorto said Pinder and his attorneys are just recycling old claims.

"When it comes to factual disputes, the petitioner simply can't rely on evidentiary disputes from trial," he said.

He said the claim that evidence was altered is "completely unsupported" and refuted or negated most of Pinder's arguments. But Parnes told the judge that the "standard is a reasonable probability of a different result," which he thinks the evidence in question could produce.

Davis said he would issue a written ruling on the matter within 90 days.

Pinder's mother, father and sister were at the hearing and said afterward that their brother and son is innocent. Jenny Pinder Dudleston said her brother is a rancher, farmer and college graduate who has been missed.

"It's been terrible," she said. "It's been a very trying time on our family. We miss John. We're a very close family."

She said the family is "hopeful" that a new hearing will be granted and evidence will acquit her brother.

Rex Tanner's brother, Milton, said, however, that he suspected John Pinder as soon as his brother went missing and he never doubted that Pinder killed his brother.

"This should be behind us," Milton Tanner said. "John did it. I agree with the jury 100 percent."

E-mail: emorgan@desnews.com, Twitter: DNewsCrimeTeam

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