KINGMAN – The defense attorney for accused murderer Alfredo Blanco opened Tuesday’s trial by planting a seed of doubt in the jury’s minds that his client pulled the trigger of the 12-gauge shotgun that killed real estate agent Sidney Cranston Jr. on June 16, 2015.
Instead, Robin Puchek is pointing the finger at William Sanders, the longtime acquaintance of Blanco who led FBI agents to Cranston’s body buried on a ranch east of Kingman 19 months after the murder.
Sanders accepted a plea agreement shortly after Blanco was arrested as a suspect in the murder in January 2017, pleading guilty to tampering with evidence and concealment of a dead body in exchange for his testimony at the trial of how he helped Blanco bury Cranston’s body near a shed on the 240-acre ranch owned by Don Bishop.
Puchek did not dispute any of the facts presented in the opening statements by prosecuting attorney Bob Moon, the fact that there was a murder and Sid Cranston’s body was discovered buried on the ranch.
However, there were two witnesses, Blanco and Sanders, and the burden is on the state to prove which one was responsible for the shooting.
“I suggest you need to watch the testimony of Bill Sanders with a jaundiced eye, with a very skeptical eye,” Puchek told the jury. “You need to give Al Blanco the benefit of the doubt. You can’t decide this case on sympathy, passion or prejudice.”
He focused on the Jan. 6, 2017, interview of Sanders conducted by FBI agent Brian Fuller. They “laid it out for him,” Puchek said. If he admits to the murder, he goes to jail. If he’s a witness, not the one that did it, he doesn’t go to prison, doesn’t lose his family and doesn’t lose his job.
“You’re in great position to help yourself. Gee, what would you do?” Puchek asked.
Moon opened the trial with a summary of events from the day of June 16, 2015, when Cranston was last seen alive, and some of the key points from the investigation during the 19 months Cranston was missing.
Cranston, 40 years old at the time of his death, had moved to Kingman 10 years earlier to work as a civil engineer, doing a lot of work for contractor Bob Carlson.
He was paying Blanco 10 percent of the rent money collected on Cranston’s rental properties, or about $1,600 a month, to be his handyman and property manager.
Chris Cranston, Sid’s brother, went through bank records for two accounts held by his brother and found no deposits were made during the week before his murder. However, Blanco deposited $1,500 into his account on June 15, 2015, and another $1,100 on June 16.
“We don’t have to prove a motive, but we’re going to submit that money is the motive, as it often is in criminal violence,” Moon said.
Sanders was called to the ranch by Blanco on the day of the murder because he had a truck capable of towing, and Blanco said he needed something moved.
When Sanders arrived, Blanco showed him the dead body of Cranston, and claimed it was an accidental shooting, that they were going after a rattlesnake in the interior of the wall, Moon said.
Blanco was interviewed by Kingman police several times, repeatedly denying he was at the Bishop ranch that day. However, cellphone records showed that he was pinged in the area of Interstate 40 and U.S. Highway 93, not far from the property off Wilson Ranch Road.
Moon said FBI agent Fuller was brought in from Flagstaff and was more “direct and confrontational” in his interview with Blanco than previous FBI agents. He used techniques to get a person to talk when they know more than they’re saying, and it worked, Moon said.
“He was reluctant to talk. It was like pulling teeth,” Moon said.
Sanders was never charged with murder. His plea agreement to tampering with evidence and concealment of a dead body requires him to testify, and he faces one year in prison.
“You’re going to have to decide how much weight to give Sanders’ testimony,” Moon said.
The trial continues Wednesday at Mohave County Superior Court, and is expected to last about two weeks.