Utah judge denies double murderer's request for a new trial

Published: Tuesday, Sept. 4 2012 5:48 p.m. MDT

Sinbad the Lion at home on the ranch of John and Beverly Pinder. A judge on Tuesday denied John Pinder's latest bid for a new murder trial.

DOUGLAS C PIZAC, AP

PROVO — Convicted double murderer John Pinder has lost his latest bid for a new trial in the grisly 1998 slayings of two former employees.

Pinder, 54, claimed he had new evidence to prove his innocence. He also claimed there were issues of prosecutorial and juror misconduct during his trial.

Fourth District Judge Lynn Davis, however, found no basis for those claims.

In a ruling issued Tuesday, Davis wrote that the "new" evidence and allegations of misconduct Pinder's attorneys cited in their motion for a new trial could have been discovered and presented at the time of Pinder's initial trial.

"Pinder points to the evidence he has brought before the court in the present action as substantial enough to overcome the evidence established at trial," Davis wrote in his 20-page ruling.

"In doing so, Pinder seeks to negate much of the evidence against him at trial ... and the three different testimonies regarding Pinder's own confessions as it relates to the underlying murders," the judge continued.

"Even if the evidence Pinder bases this petition on was to be admitted, he yet fails to establish that it surmounts the amount of evidence admitted against him at trial such that a reasonable trier of fact could not still have found Pinder guilty," Davis wrote.

Given that finding, the judge granted the state's request that Pinder's motion for a new trial be dismissed.

Pinder kidnapped Rex Tanner and June Flood from their home in October 1998 with the help of ranch hand Filomeno Valenchia Ruiz. The two men took Tanner and Flood to Pinder's JJNP Ranch west of Lake Canyon in Duchesne County, where they killed them, then used explosives and a bulldozer to try to dispose of their bodies.

Pinder — who gained notoriety in Duchesne County before the killings 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 aggravated murder. He was sentenced to serve two consecutive life sentences with the possibility of parole.

His first parole hearing is slated for November 2028.

Ruiz, 48, 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.

E-mail: gliesik@desnews.com Twitter: GeoffLiesik

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