John Sandoval’s 2010 Greeley murder trial recapped
April 1, 2017
John Sandoval's murder trial form July 12-Aug. 5, 2010, at the time was the longest trial in Weld County history, costing the county roughly $100,000 on the police investigation alone, accounting for everything from police overtime to hiring a plumbing company to review a sewer pipe Sandoval claimed he was fixing the night Tina Sandoval disappeared. Travel and airfare or out of state witnesses cost another $10,000.
The trial was a huge risk, especially without direct evidence or a confession linking Sandoval to his wife's murder.
Here is an account of some key testimony throughout the trial, which featured 137 witnesses.
Court administrators call 200 potential jurors to sit in the month-long trial. The first two-and-a-half days were spent seating a jury, eventually coming down to eight women and six men, which included two alternates.
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Current District Attorney Micheal Rourke, who was then a prosecutor in the case, laid out the murder case, 15 years in the making for the jury.
"The 'why' in this case is domestic violence. … For Tina Sandoval, leaving the relationship was the ultimate betrayal of her husband and one that would not go unanswered." He said John Sandoval was the last person to drive Tina's car, as dogs tracked his scent to her car, which was parked four blocks away from his house.
Public defender Jayme Muehlenkamp delivers her opening statements to the jury. She says police immediately focused their attention on Sandoval, ignoring other obvious suspects in Tournai Sandoval's disappearance. She states Sandoval was in Denver the night his wife disappeared, and testimony will show that witnesses today will turn on the man they defended 15 years ago.
Tournai Sandoval's sister, Susan Kuznik, testifies her sister was worried about her planned meeting with Sandoval and that she promised to call Kuznik by 12:30 p.m., after that meeting, to ensure she was safe. The call never came.
Mary Ellen Tournai testifies that she reported her daughter missing to police that night, after failing to find her daughter at Sandoval's house and his mother's house.
Nurse Jane Storm tells the jury that on Tournai Sandoval's last shift as a nurse on Oct. 18, 1995, the young nurse expressed increasing concern about her planned meeting with her husband. She and others tried to convince her to take someone with her or meet her husband in a public place. She testified that Tournai Sandoval told others of her husband's problem with voyeurism. She also admits that in a note to a former coworker last year she wrote, "I hope they get him, finally."
Sandoval's aunt, Graviela Delgado, who lived with Sandoval, proved a frustrating witness for prosecutors. Delgado protected her nephew from police that night, and also was not forthcoming with information. She claimed events and statements made to the police the night of Tournai Sandoval's disappearance did not happen. She reported she did not tell Mary Ellen Tournai — who came to the house looking for her daughter the day she disappeared — about her daughter being at the house that morning with Sandoval because she had not been missing for 24 hours.
An FBI agent testified that last year, she showed Delgado pictures of fresh scratch marks on Sandoval's neck the morning after Tournai Sandoval's disappearance and Delgado was very concerned about the photos.
Prosecutors bring in witnesses to speak about Sandoval's history of voyeurism, which was the chief reason for his wife to leave him in August 1995. Sandoval was arrested the day after his wife's disappearance for a case in which he was charged with breaking into a woman's home. Police used that arrest to keep Sandoval so they could collect physical evidence from him in regard to the case of his missing wife.
Police detail evidence they collected, such as a bucket, shovel, rope and gun found in Sandoval's car; three credit cards of Tournai Sandoval's found in Sandoval's house, plus a jacket Tournai Sandoval had just been given being found in Sandoval's home. Her wallet had three empty slots in the credit card area, and the last check written in her checkbook was dated that morning.
Jurors watch a two-hour video taken of Sandoval after his arrest for trespassing. Police also hold him to collect evidence from him. Sandoval spent those two hours asking for his lawyer and biting his nails, which police took to mean he was trying to get rid of trace evidence involved in his wife's disappearance. Police eventually take photos of fresh scratch marks on his neck, chest and eye, as well as an injury on his knee and toe. They also take fingernail scrapings.
A UNC professor, Lory Clukey, reports Tournai Sandoval told her she might be a victim of domestic violence; but she had never come forward before. Public defenders take issue with many witnesses coming forward with new information, or remembering things they never brought up 15 years ago when they were first interviewed.
Sandoval's cousin, Jesse Martinez, details his short-lived affair with Tournai-Sandoval while she was separated from her husband. Martinez said he believed Sandoval killed her, but admits statements today are different than they were in 1995, when he was trying to protect his cousin, and also hide his relationship with his cousin's wife, fearing for his own safety.
Prosecutors spend much of the morning detailing Tournai Sandoval's disappearance through documents: no reported wage earnings in 15 years, never renewing her new nursing license, never leaving the country, never making a payment on her student loans, which were due on Dec. 15, and never making any payments on her credit cards past October 1995.
They also detail an incident in March 1993, in which a woman reported a man following her throughout Greeley. The plate number she provided was registered to Mary Lou Sandoval, John Sandoval's mother. Sandoval at the time denied following the woman.
Jennifer Karr, Sandoval's high school girlfriend, told the jury a horror story of a boyfriend who wouldn't let go, even after a year of separation. She detailed a frightening night in which she said Sandoval — after breaking into her apartment many times in March 1983 and finally leaving a note affixed to her table with the blade of an 8-inch knife, threatening to kill her — put a knife to her throat.
"He told me he was going to take me into the mountains and chop me up into little pieces so nobody would ever find me."
Former stalking victim Lori Bucklen told the jury that Sandoval followed and watched her intermittently for three years, from 1992-95, the first three years of his marriage to Tournai Sandoval.
Domestic violence expert Jean McAllister educated the jury on the behaviors of domestic violence perpetrators and victims, laying out many behaviors that Sandoval had been accused of.
Jurors heard from members of Sandoval's family: his mother, Mary Lou Sandoval and his aunt, Josephine Herrera. Herrera is the mother of Jesse Martinez, who had an affair with Tournai-Sandoval in the last month of her marriage.
Mary Lou Sandoval said though she knew where her son was the night before – in Denver with a cousin, then later at her house helping her dig sewage from a broken sewer line – she said nothing of her son's alibi to police because she said she thought they were trying to frame him, as she said police had done in the past.
Herrera said Mary Lou Sandoval visited her house in the morning of Oct. 20, 1995, a visit Mary Lou denied.
"I asked her, 'What's going on? She said, 'John did something stupid,'" Herrera said.
DNA evidence testing ruled the day, as agents form the Colorado Bureau of Investigation discussed how new testing helped reveal a little more information on evidence collected in the case in 1995.
Though much of the evidence still tested inconclusive, more fingers pointed toward the potential of Sandoval being in contact with Tournai Sandoval the day she disappeared. Swabs of three pieces of evidence revealed a clearer picture for analysts, using technology and testing that hadn't been developed until recently.
Testing of one of Tournai Sandoval's credit cards found in Sandoval's home revealed the presence of male DNA that was more than likely that of a southwestern Hispanic man; testing of Sandoval's jeans revealed a mixture of DNA, the majority of which was Sandoval's, the minority of which was inconclusive because there wasn't enough of the sample to study.
"If I could have excluded (Tournai Sandoval) as being a contributor to this mixture, I would have," said CBI agent Yvonne Woods.
Gunshot residue expert Alex Rugh, also with the CBI, tested items of Sandoval's clothing he wore when he returned home at 6 a.m. Oct. 20. Most of the results, he said, were inconclusive.
Prosecutors attacked Mary Lou Sandoval's claim that her son was digging through sewage in her backyard at 2 a.m. Oct. 20, 1995, and trying to help her fix the broken line.
Prosecutors brought up four witnesses to show that the sewer line had indeed been broken but 10 years earlier. Sandoval's neighbor and plumber David Adolph Sr., said he fixed that line after the Sandovals had broken it digging with a back hoe. He said he fixed that line sometime between 1980-85.
In 2009, police ran a camera through that line to determine if it had been broken more than once, finding evidence of only one repair.
Ignacio Cano, who has lived at the house for the last 10 years, said he installed a clean-out line to the sewer line about eight years prior, erasing the idea that Sandoval may have been working on that portion of the sewer line instead of the main line, which was 7½ feet below the surface.
City Water and Sewer employee Steve Emmans said it was a very long way to dig into the earth with just a shovel.
Greeley Police detective Mike Prill takes the stand to answer the question defense attorneys posed from the beginning. "Why did you focus on John Sandoval?"
Prill answered, "That's where the evidence pointed. At every turn in the case, the evidence consistently returned me back to John Sandoval as the only suspect in the death of Tina Sandoval."
Rourke announced the prosecution rested its case, allowing the defense to begin presenting its witnesses. One witness, a family friend of Sandoval, said she ran into John at the mall four days prior to Tina's disappearance. "He was fine."
Defense attorneys attack prosecution testimony that tracking dogs accurately tracked John's scent from his house to Tina's car, and to the hospital, where he was getting X-rays. Joe Clingan, the man who certified the dogs that tracked the scents, testified the dog's abilities were exaggerated. "I never had a great deal of confidence in that team's ability," he said. He also questioned the dog handler's movements in the tracking, stating the handler may have tainted the scents.
Both sides deliver closing arguments. Ken Barker states, "Physical evidence doesn't lie, it does not change stories, it does not forget, and it does not exaggerate, and it does not lose its memory." He alluded to scores of missteps by police in a "tunnel-vision" investigation. Prosecutor Matt Maillaro states: "The only injustice larger than ever being able to never give Tina a proper burial is to reward the person who made that impossible. In this case, you've been given a view into a very disturbed and angry mind. (He's) not just an innocent voyeur who was framed. He's not just a stalker. This is a man who couldn't bear to lose his wife. … He's been a murder for 15 years, and justice has been delayed. Do not, please, do not let it be denied."
Jurors were sent home for the night to begin deliberations the next morning.
Jurors begin deliberations at 8 a.m. and emerged with a guilty verdict seven hours later. Said one of his stalking victims from the 1980s: "I just wish he would have been man enough to tell the family where she was. As a mom, I guess I'm sad about that."
Juror Russell Stark said after the verdict: "We were always unanimous that he committed murder. It wasn't just one piece of evidence. Like the DA (suggested), we stepped back and looked at all the evidence. … Even if there was a body, you'd still have to look at all the circumstances."