THE LATEST: Testimony from key witness leads to mistrial in Blanco murder case
KINGMAN – Mohave County Superior Court Judge Rick Lambert declared a mistrial Thursday, three days into the first-degree murder trial of Alfredo Gerardo Blanco, after a key witness made a statement that revealed inadmissible evidence.
Bill Sanders, who pleaded guilty to concealment of a dead body and tampering with evidence in exchange for his testimony, was recounting a telephone conversation he had with Blanco following an FBI interview on Jan. 6, 2017, when he made the inadmissible statement.
Defense attorney Robin Puchek objected and asked for a mistrial. Lambert called both attorneys into his chambers and dismissed the jury, and after about 15 minutes came back with his order continuing the jury trial until Nov. 27.
Blanco, 63, is charged with the June 16, 2015, premeditated murder of real estate investor Sid Cranston Jr., whose body was found 19 months later buried on a ranch east of Kingman.
“It is what it is,” said Chris Cranston, Sid’s brother who traveled from New York with their father to attend the trial and was expected to testify. “I trust in the Lord’s will. We may never know why this happened. We’re just looking for justice, whether it takes six weeks or six months.”
Sanders went to Cranston and his family afterwards and apologized for his statement.
“He made a verbal slip-up. He was telling the truth and made an honest mistake,” Cranston said.
Lambert explained to the jury and audience that there was an inadmissible issue, but didn’t give details that would taint a future jury pool.
He told the jurors they would have that inadmissible issue in the back of their minds.
“Again, I’m going to be vague,” the judge said. “But I want to say for the record, neither attorney did anything wrong. I’m not placing blame. Sometimes these things happen.”
Prosecuting attorney Bob Moon was questioning Sanders at the time.
“If you guys want to take turns slapping me around …” he told the Cranston family and supporters outside the courtroom.
A woman juror approached Chris Cranston in tears and said she was sorry about the mistrial, that she felt a closeness to Sid Cranston.
Sanders, who met Blanco through the Elks Club and has been friends for about 15 years, was being grilled by Puchek about his possession of a shotgun and knowledge of how to use it, and also about his abuse of oxycontin, which might impair his motor skills, judgment and focus.
At one point, Puchek asked Sanders if he was the one who shot Cranston at close range in the old ranch house, and if Blanco was covering up for him. He asked why Sanders didn’t call police right away, or give them information in follow-up interviews.
Sanders said he was afraid of retribution from Blanco.
“Have you ever lost anybody close to you?” Sanders remembers Blanco asking when he suggested calling police.
It was after Sanders had failed a polygraph test by the FBI that he was interviewed again on Jan. 6, 2017, by special agent Brian Fuller and came forth with information about where Cranston’s body was buried and his involvement in the crime.
“I’ve relived this over and over again,” Sanders said during his testimony. “It just doesn’t go away. Every day it’s in my head.”
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