Arizona Man Sentenced to Natural Life in Prison for 2017 Death of His Wife, Who Was Buried Alive

Arizona Man Sentenced to Natural Life in Prison for 2017 Death of His Wife, Who Was Buried Alive
David Pagniano in an undated photo. (Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office)

PRESCOTT, Ariz.—An Arizona man has been sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for the 2017 death of his wife, who was buried alive in a hand-dug grave near their home, authorities said.

Seven years after the murder, David Pagniano decided to plead guilty before his trial was scheduled to start and allowed a judge to determine his sentence without a plea agreement.

Mr. Pagniano, 62, also was sentenced on May 9 to a 16 ½-year prison term for kidnapping, forgery, and fraud, according to the Yavapai County Attorney’s Office.

“My office pursued the death penalty in this case because of the horrific circumstances surrounding the abduction and murder of a young mother,” County Attorney Dennis McGrane said in a statement.

Authorities said 39-year-old Sandra Pagniano disappeared while she was in the process of divorcing her husband in May 2017.

They said she and David Pagniano were separated but still living in the same home with their two young daughters.

Sandra Pagniano’s body was found bound and gagged in packing tape inside a grave in a rural area north of Prescott and the county medical examiner’s office confirmed she had been buried alive.

County sheriff’s officials said evidence showed Sandra Pagniano vigorously struggled while she was in the grave and may have been conscious for up to five minutes.

They said cellphone evidence showed Mr. Pagniano was in the gravesite area days before his wife went missing and the night of the kidnapping.

Detectives recovered two notes that were filed in the divorce case after Sandra Pagniano’s disappearance, purportedly written by her.

The notes said she was leaving Mr. Pagniano and giving him her vehicles, house, and custody of their children.

But authorities said a forensic examination of the notes revealed they were written by Mr. Pagniano.

A grand jury indicted him on a charge of first-degree murder after his wife’s body was discovered in a remote area 10 miles (16 kilometers) northwest of the couple’s home near Prescott in north-central Arizona.

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