Ex-Marine Gets 26 Years |for Heinous Murder

     (CN) — A former Marine was sentenced to 26 years in prison for murdering and dismembering his girlfriend and dumping her body in the Panamanian jungle.
     Brian Brimager, 40, pleaded guilty to one count of foreign murder of a U.S. national in the second degree and agreed to pay $10,000 in restitution.
     According to prosecutors, Brimager and the victim, Yvonne Baldelli, were living in a hostel in Bocas del Toro, Panama, when their relationship began to disintegrate and Brimager started physically abusing her.
     At the time, prosecutors said, Brimager was involved with multiple women, and Baldelli was not about to keep quiet about it.
     They said to silence her, Brimager broke her nose and teeth, stabbed her multiple times in the back, and then cut up her body with a machete.
     He also concocted an elaborate story about how Baldelli had gone to Costa Rica with another man, and to make it more believable for friends and relatives, he slowly got rid of all her belongings and killed her two dogs, a King Charles Spaniel named Georgia Mae, and another dog Baldelli had adopted on the island, prosecutors said.
     Meanwhile, Brimager made plans to return to his home in California and propose to another girlfriend, who was also the mother of his daughter.
     Before that, though, he hung out in Panama a bit longer, bought rounds of drinks with Baldelli’s money, starting seeing yet another woman, and wrote upbeat emails to friends and family.
     “Hey bro … whatchu up to I got stories for days nigga! … that’s what I’d say if you were african American,” Brimager wrote to one friend soon after the murder. “I’m living on an island off the coast of panama in the caribbean loving life semper free!!!!! What is your fat ass up too (sic)?”
     “Semper free” is a reference to the motto of the Marines, “Semper fidelis” which means “always faithful.”
     Brimager spent seven years in the Marines and was stationed in Iraq, but reportedly never fought in combat. Still, his service was factored to U.S. District Judge Jeffrey Miller’s decision on sentencing.
     At a hearing in San Diego Federal Court, Miller explained to the courtroom why he did not give Brimager 30 years, as the prosecution had requested, or the maximum sentence of life in prison.
     “No matter how heinous the crime, this is a man who has served his country for seven years – going on numerous tours including Iraq, Fallujah where he fought for his country,” Judge Miller said. “You also have to look at the nature of their relationship … it was a stormy, tumultuous relationship, marked by mutual domestic violence … It was dysfunctional, fueled by excessive consumption of drugs and alcohol.”
     Mark Conover, who prosecuted the case, took issue with the part about mutual violence.
     “The defense made that statement in their sentencing papers,” Conover said. “The prosecution does not agree with that assessment.”
     Photographs of Baldelli’s bruised face and testimony from witnesses who saw Brimager choke, beat and drag Baldelli, suggest that she had been a victim, but no evidence of any violence against Brimager has surfaced, Conover said.
     “I wish the judge had a clearer understanding as to the nature of domestic violence,” said Michelle Faust, one of Baldelli’s sisters, after Courthouse News reached her by phone. “An abused woman might lash out at her abuser, but when she’s 100 pounds less than him, and he is a trained marine …. Let’s just say this looks a lot like blaming the victim.”
     Baldelli wasn’t the only woman Brimager allegedly abused. Nicole Powell, the woman he took up with in Panama after killing Baldelli, told “48 Hours” that Brimager hit her, too. It happened during a trip Powell made from Panama to Brimager’s home in California, which Brimager shared with his then-fiancé and their daughter.
     “He got super angry with me and flung his hand up and hit me in the face,” Powell told the program’s reporters. “I was shocked. I — I’ve never been hit before in my life.” Powell said she left in a hurry and never saw Brimager again. Two weeks later, Brimager and the girlfriend were married.
     Although Brimager’s time in service, scant criminal record and tumultuous relationship became mitigating factors in his sentence, the heinous nature of the crime and his years of lying and obstructing the investigation weighed against him.
     To stop Baldelli’s relatives from looking for her, Brimager had taken control of her computer and sent fake emails from her account explaining that she had gone to Costa Rica with another expat named Tony Gonzalez. Meanwhile, he sold off all of Baldelli’s clothing and jewelry and put the machete he used to mutilate her body up for sale on Facebook, leaving a comment below the photograph: “… don’t worry I only dismembered one stripper with it so it’s hardly used.”
     When a friend asked how his girlfriend was doing (presumably meaning Baldelli), he responded, “I ditched the bitch.”
     Eventually, Brimager stopped the fake emails and Baldelli’s family realized she was missing. Brimager claimed he had no idea what had happened, and told investigators he wanted to help in any way possible.
     Prosecutors built their case against Brimager based on the fake emails and a well-timed Google search in which Brimager tried to learn how to clean blood off a mattress. (He never did figure it out, and instead threw the mattress in the ocean).
     He was charged with 13 felonies involving the cover-up and jailed in San Diego.
     Two months later — and nearly two years after Baldelli’s disappearance — a worker stumbled on three military-like duffel bags and two trash bags full of human remains in the Panamanian jungle. DNA tests showed it was Baldelli.
     By that time, prosecutors had enough to charge Brimager, and he pleaded not guilty. The prosecution requested an emergency deposition to obtain the testimony of a second sister of Baldelli’s, Michele Valenzuela, a recipient of many of the fake emails. Valenzuela had been diagnosed with breast cancer and it metastasized to her brain. Brimager objected and delayed the emergency deposition for months, until finally prosecutors received authorization to move forward. It was too late.
     “The defendants delay tactics succeeded,” the prosecutor wrote in a sentencing memo. “Michele’s condition had deteriorated and she was unable to remain lucid throughout the deposition. After being wheeled back to her hotel room after the deposition, she went to sleep and never regained full consciousness. She died two days later.”
     Soon after, the FBI found blood under the handle of Brimager’s machete, and determined it contained the Baldelli’s DNA. Up against hard physical evidence, Brimager finally pleaded guilty and admitted to stabbing Baldelli, dismembering her, hiding her remains in the jungle, killing her dogs, and sending fake emails from her account to make her family believe she was alive.
     Conover, the prosecutor, said that although Brimager might have faced a longer sentence if the case went to trial, he was relieved that the family would not have to endure it. There was also some closure, he said, for the family to hear Brimager finally admit what he did.
     Brimager apologized in court, but his words rang hollow to Baldelli’s loved ones.
     “Forgiveness is for those who repent, not for those who cover their crimes, not for those who confess only when their back’s against the wall,” Michelle Faust told the court.
     In federal prison, Brimager will serve a mandatory 85 percent of his 26-year sentence, with credit for time served. That means he could be back on the streets in less than 20 years.
     James Fault, Baldelli’s father, believes his daughter’s killer deserved more time.
     “We have family members in the Marines and they think he deserved more,” Fault said. “I think he was given too much credit.”
     Brimager himself, it turns out, was not particularly fond of the Marines or his time there. In an email to his mother about his time in Panama, he made that clear. “Just trying to get the Marine Corps outta my system,” he wrote. “It’s a lot more fun visiting another country when you’re not there to kill it’s (sic) inhabitants.”

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