FLORENCE — The trial of a man accused in aiding the murder of an Apache Junction couple is proceeding in Pinal County Superior Court.
Demian Blu, 44, is charged with three counts of first-degree murder and two counts of abandonment or concealment of a dead body.
In May 2016, Keith Long and Renae Gardner were shot and killed while sleeping in their trailer home in an Apache Junction trailer park. Long’s body was found in a canal near San Tan Valley. Gardner’s body was found along the Beeline Highway/State Route 87 between Phoenix and Payson.
Blu is one of three men who were arrested in connection with Long and Gardner’s deaths. Clint Wendelschafer, 34, of Tempe and Nicholas Douglas, 45, of San Tan Valley were also accused of murdering the couple. Wendelschafer accepted a plea agreement in December 2019 and Douglas is awaiting trial.
Tina Nelson, an acquaintance of Gardner, was one of the first witnesses called to the stand. She tearfully admitted under cross-examination by defense attorneys on Friday that she wrote a number of angry Facebook posts and messages to her 2,000 Facebook friends because she was mad that Gardner had allegedly taken some of her belongings.
“I was trying to get my belongings back,” she said.
Defense attorney Joshua Wallace implied that Nelson was trying to use her connections with biker gang members on Facebook to intimidate or put pressure on Gardner to return her belongings by pointing out that Long was a sex offender, linking back to his criminal record and calling Gardner a thief, a drug user and a “cop caller,” someone who calls the police instead of handling a problem himself.
“I was trying to hit them where it hurts. I was trying to get my stuff back,” she said.
While calling someone a sex offender, a drug user or a cop caller is a serious allegation in a biker gang, Nelson said, she scoffed at the idea that it would get someone killed.
Wallace also pointed out several messages where Nelson seemed to gloat over the disappearance of Gardner and Long.
Nelson denied gloating over their disappearance.
“I loved Renae,” she said. “I was pissed at her. I didn’t know Keith that well.”
She denied making any of the posts after the couple went missing.
After Wallace finished questioning Nelson, Deputy County Attorney Patrick Chapman asked if the intent of her Facebook messages was to get the couple killed.
“No,” Nelson said angrily. “What was intended was to get my st back.”
After a lunch break, Animal Control Officer Brian Lawson was brought to the stand and testified about how he was called out to the home to pick up three dogs that had been reported as abandoned by their owners.
Lawson testified that the dogs seemed to be in good condition and that while the trailer did smell of trash and dog feces, it didn’t smell of bleach or any other cleaning agent. He estimated that the dogs had been on their own from one to seven days. He said Blu later told him it had been about three days since the owners had been seen.
He also testified that Blu was reluctant to allow him inside the trailer and offered to hand him the dogs. He explained that he needed to get inside the trailer to see the conditions that the dogs were living in and photograph it. He said that Blu walked back to the back bedroom of the home several times while he was trying to collect the dogs.
He also said that Blu told him that he had found a dead dog in the trailer earlier and pointed to a spot in the kitchen.
Defense attorney Christopher Doran pointed out that some of Lawson’s comments differed from the answers he had given to prosecutors and defense attorneys during an interview about three months ago.
Lawson admitted that it was not unusual for a maintenance man to follow him into a property while he was investigating an animal abandonment case and that it wasn’t weird that someone who didn’t know the investigation process might offer to help.
A deputy county attorney asked Lawson if his original report from five years ago or the information provided during the interview three months ago was more correct. Lawson stated that his report was probably more accurate.
The attorneys wrapped up the day with testimony from Hope Silich, an acquaintance whom Long had lived with for about six months.
Silich testified that she met Long when he came over to repair some plumbing that had been broken while she and her male partner were having a pool installed at their home in Mesa. She said Long lived with them for six months before she asked him to leave and he moved to the trailer park in Apache Junction.
Silich said that she went over to Long and Gardner’s trailer sometime before May 10 in an effort to recover some power tools and clothes that Long and Gardner had taken from her and her partner.
She said she went over to the trailer five days in a row and knocked on a back bedroom door. She testified that she looked in the window of the back door and saw what looked like a person curled up on the bed under a blanket. She thought it might be Gardner so she called out to her and knocked on the door but the person didn’t respond.
She said when she came back the next three days she saw the body on the bed in the same position each time. On the fifth day, she said that she and her partner were approached by Blu and that Blu rode up to the trailer on Long’s motorcycle.
She testified that she asked where Long was and why Blu was riding Long’s motorcycle. Blu allegedly told her that Long had loaned it to him and he didn’t know where Long was. She testified that she never knew Long to loan out his bike.
She also testified that she noticed a smell of decomposition that day and asked Blu about that. Blu allegedly told her that two of the dogs had died in the house and that the body on the bed was one of the dogs and that the other dog had died on the couch.
The case will resume Tuesday morning with more testimony from Silich.