A Marine veteran was sentenced to 26 years in federal prison on Wednesday for killing and then dismembering his girlfriend in Panama in 2011.
Brian Brimager, 40, pleaded guilty in February to stabbing to death Yvonne Baldelli in an apartment they shared in Bocas del Toro, an island off the Panamanian coast.
In the months after the killing, Brimager tried to cover up the crime by destroying evidence and impersonating Baldelli in bogus emails he sent to her family to deflect their suspicion of him and concern for her.
The motive for the killing is unclear. The couple had what U.S. District Court Judge Jeffrey Miller characterized as a tumultuous relationship, fueled by drugs and alcohol and marred by arguments and physical assaults by both.
Brimager offered no answer, but apologized to the family and said the killing was “an act completely contrary to my nature.”
Assistant U.S. Atty. Mark Conover urged Miller to disregard any contrition from Brimager.
“His words ring hollow today,” the prosecutor said. “Too little, too late. His actions over the last four years speak louder than these contrived words.”
After the November 2011 killing, Brimager told acquaintances who knew the couple in Panama that Baldelli had run off with another man, then wrote fake emails on her account to her family, pretending to be her and telling them she had gone to Costa Rica.
He also drained Baldelli’s bank accounts, prosecutor’s said. One witness said Brimager often would buy a round of drinks, then offer a toast to the bar with a hearty, “Thanks, Vonnie!”
Brimager returned to the U.S. at the end of 2011 and married another woman with whom he had fathered a child. By early 2012, the FBI was investigating Baldelli’s disappearance and interviewed Brimager at his Carlsbad home. He denied any involvement in her disappearance.
In August 2013, Baldelli’s remains were discovered in the jungle. By then, Brimager already had been arrested on a charge of lying to federal agents. His guilty plea in her murder came weeks after an FBI analysis of a machete he owned found Baldelli’s DNA under the handle.
According to court records, Brimager admitted that he stabbed Baldelli in the back. She had learned Brimager had a daughter from reading his emails and confronted him, triggering a fight.
Brimager dragged her into the bathroom and used a machete and a saw to dismember her — stuffing her body into two duffel bags that he then dumped in the jungle.
Baldelli’s family and friends spoke Wednesday about their loss:
“Our lives will never be the same without her,” lifelong friend Adrienne Markes said.
Moran writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune