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The Utah Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld Utah rancher John Pinder's convictions in the gruesome 1998 murders of two of his ranch hands.
In a 5-0 opinion, the high court rejected all of Pinder's arguments, including one that he would be exonerated by testimony from newly discovered witnesses who claimed two other men were the actual killers.
The ruling said the witnesses were "seriously wanting in credibility" and some of their claims were inconsistent with undisputed facts.
Pinder, who owned a sprawling ostrich ranch in Duchesne County, was convicted of fatally shooting June Flood, 59, and Rex Tanner, 48, on Oct. 25, 1998, then blowing up their bodies the next day and burning the body parts that had not been vaporized.
Pinder, now 57, was sentenced to two consecutive life terms, which included the possibility of parole, by 4th District Judge Lynn Davis.
"This case demonstrates our office's firm commitment to ensuring justice is served in Utah criminal cases, to upholding valid convictions on appeal, and to protecting the rights of victims and their families," Attorney General Sean Reyes said in a press release.
Court documents say that according to trial testimony, Pinder and several others, including employee Filomeno Ruiz, were drinking the night of the murders when the talk turned to "shrunken heads" that the ranch owner had seen in a curiosity shop in Seattle. Then Pinder said to Ruiz, "Let's go get some heads," the documents say.
The two men drove to the home where Flood and Tanner lived, where Pinder violently assaulted and kidnapped them before shooting them both with a 10-millimeter pistol. Pinder and Ruiz later packed the bodies with ammonium nitrate and dynamite and set them off, court documents say.
Following a day of bulldozing the blast site, Pinder and Ruiz dropped several garbage bags of body parts into a barrel and set them on fire, according to trial testimony. A neighbor who testified, David Brunyer, said he was commandeered into helping Pinder and Ruiz collect the body parts.
Ruiz, who pleaded guilty to two counts of murder and was sentenced to two concurrent 5-years-to-life prison terms, was the star witness at Pinder's trial.
In 2003, Pinder's attorneys asked Davis for a new trial, on the basis of testimony from two witnesses a jailhouse snitch who said Ruiz had confided he murdered Flood and Tanner because they had stolen a half-pound of methamphetamine from him, and Brunyer's brother, who claimed David Brunyer had confessed to being present during the shootings.
The judge denied the motion for a retrial, finding that the new witnesses were not credible, and that ruling was upheld in 2005 by the Utah Supreme Court.
Pinder filed a motion for post-conviction relief in 2006 with affidavits from two more inmates who had spent time with Ruiz while incarcerated. Each claimed Ruiz had said he and another man not Pinder were the killers.
After Davis rejected the claims, Pinder appealed, leading to Tuesday's decision.
His first parole hearing is scheduled for November 2028.
Twitter: @Pamela Manson