Major development expected Friday in 1995 Greeley murder case | MyWindsorNow.com
Sharon Dunn
sdunn@greeleytribune.com

Back to: News

Major development expected Friday in 1995 Greeley murder case

There has been a major development in the 21-year-old murder case of Tina Tournai Sandoval in 1995.

Her former estranged husband, John Sandoval, 52, was convicted of her murder in 2010, but the Colorado Court of Appeals overturned that conviction last year, based on some errors committed at trial. The case was sent back to Weld District Court, and has been awaiting a date for a second trial.

All of that changes now. Sandoval will appear in court at 1:30 p.m. Friday for a disposition hearing, at which time attorneys will announced a resolution to the case, and forgo a planned jury trial, according to court documents. Prosecutors will not discuss the nature of the hearing, but they have planned a news conference afterward in the Plaza West building of the Weld County Court complex.

The couple was married for three years before Tina disappeared on Oct. 19, 1995. She had left John Sandoval nearly three months prior, and she had warned friends and family if anything happened to her, it was at the hands of her estranged husband. The pair had a pending divorce prior to one final meeting they were to have to settle an IRS debt. About 7 a.m. that day, Tina Sandoval left her overnight nursing shift at North Colorado Medical Center en route to her husband's house in northwest Greeley.

She was never seen again.

Though her body was never found, Sandoval never confessed, there were no witnesses, and there was no direct scientific evidence linking him to the crime, Greeley police worked for years to prove she died at her husband's hands.

Police built their case against Sandoval in 1995, but then-District Attorney Al Dominguez wouldn't take it because there was no body, and only circumstantial evidence, which he didn't believe met the standards of proof beyond a reasonable doubt, the requirement standard for a jury to convict.

A Weld District Court Judge issued a death certificate for Tina in 2001, but it didn't carry the same standards — proof beyond reasonable doubt — as the criminal action carried.

Police presented the case to Weld District Attorney Ken Buck in 2009, and he filed a charge of first-degree murder against Sandoval, who was living in Las Vegas after serving a six-year prison sentence for a different crime. He was arrested in June.

On Aug. 5, 2010, after 137 witnesses in a month-long trial, a jury in seven hours found Sandoval guilty of first-degree murder, with some stating the prosecution had eliminated every possible option but murder in the case. Public defenders argued Sandoval was an easy target for police, based on his arrest history. Sandoval's appeal of his conviction languished in the Colorado Court of Appeals for six years. But on March 17, 2016, the appellate court overturned his conviction based on a combination of errors at trial. Prosecutors brought in other women who Sandoval had stalked, and a domestic violence expert, who testified that statistics showed that most men who stalked women also killed them.

The court ruled that introduction of prior acts of stalking other women, as well as a domestic violence expert correlating stalkers with killers, and Weld District Attorney Michael Rourke's closing arguments directing jurors to that testimony, violated Sandoval's right to a fair trial. The court, however, stated, "we initially conclude that the evidence introduced at trial supporting Sandoval's conviction was sufficient."

The expected second trial would have been hampered not only by witness memory loss in a 21-year-old case, but by the actual loss of two key witnesses from the first trial. Sandoval's mother, Mary Lou Sandoval, died Jan. 30, 2016. She was considered a key witness at the time because prosecutors had recordings of her and her son working together to come up with alibis for his whereabouts the night of Tina's disappearance. Jesse Martinez, Sandoval's cousin and best friend, who had an affair with Tina a month before she left her husband, died earlier this year. He was at one time considered an alternate suspect in Tina's death, but that was quickly ruled out.

Stay Tuned

The Tribune will be in the courtroom Friday during a hearing for John Sandoval, who is facing a second trial in the death of his estranged wife, Tina Tournai Sandoval. Weld County prosecutors state there has been a major development in the case, and will have a press conference at 3 p.m., in the jury assembly room in Plaza West of the Weld County Court complex, 901 9th Ave. Check out http://www.greeleytribune.com and Facebook.com/greeleytribune throughout the day on Friday for the latest developments.

•••

Read more

To learn more about the case against John Sandoval, read “In Tina’s Shadow,” by Sharon Dunn. The book, which chronicles the death of Tina Tournai Sandoval, and the 2010 trial in which John Sandoval was convicted of murder, is available in paperback and on Kindle through Amazon.