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Former Marine pleads guilty to killing girlfriend in Panama

Former Marine pleads guilty to killing girlfriend in Panama
Yvonne Lee Baldelli's boyfriend pleaded guilty in San Diego on Wednesday to killing her and dismembering her body on a Panamanian island in 2011. (Family photo)

A former Marine pleaded guilty in San Diego federal court Wednesday to fatally stabbing his girlfriend, dismembering her body and dumping her remains in the Panama jungle.

Brian Brimager's admission came three weeks after an FBI laboratory concluded that blood found under the handle of a machete he owned matched the victim's DNA.

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He pleaded guilty to second-degree foreign murder of a U.S. national, a rarely used charge that must be approved by the Justice Department. To bring the charge, both the defendant and victim must be U.S. citizens, and the defendant must have left the country where the crime was committed.

Brimager, 39, admitted to stabbing former Dana Point resident Yvonne Baldelli, 42, in the back on Nov. 27, 2011, and using the machete to dismember her body, stuffing the remains in a green military-style backpack and hiding it in the jungle on Isla Carenero in Panama.

The couple had moved to the island in September 2011 after Brimager left the Marines.

An examination of Baldelli's computer — from which prosecutors said Brimager sent emails in order to conceal her disappearance — included a search for "washing mattress blood stain." Brimager told authorities that he had dumped a bloody mattress from their hostel in the ocean after the slaying, gotten rid of Baldelli's dog and given away many of her belongings. He also allegedly gave a neighbor his machete, which was put up for sale online.

After returning to the U.S., Brimager married a woman with whom he already had a child. They settled in Vista and had a second child.

Two years after Baldelli disappeared, a farmworker clearing brush in a swampy part of the island uncovered her remains.

"With Brimager pleading guilty to all the things he did, it was good for us," Baldelli's father, James Faust, said after the hearing Wednesday. "It's been 41/2 years of torture not knowing what really happened."

The plea agreement calls for a recommended sentence of 20 to 30 years, although U.S. District Judge Jeffrey Miller has the discretion to sentence Brimager to life in prison. Sentencing has been set for May 25.

Davis writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.

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