A woman was buried alive in a shallow grave. Then her estranged husband forged notes in her name

Sandra Pagniano was bound, gagged and buried alive by her husband in the middle of their bitter divorce

James Liddell
Thursday 23 May 2024 01:37 BST
The Pagnianos were in the middle of a bitter divorce
The Pagnianos were in the middle of a bitter divorce (Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office)
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A husband has been sentenced to life in prison after he buried his wife alive in a shallow, hand-dug grave while they were in the midst of bitter divorce proceedings.

Sandra Pagniano, 39, vanished without a trace in May 2017, with two mysterious letters left behind.

The letters, which appeared to have been left by the mother-of-two, said that she was leaving and wanted to hand over the house, cars and custody of their two children to her husband David Michael Pagniano.

Prosecutors later learned that the notes had been forged by her 62-year-old husband.

On 26 May – less than a week on from her disappearance – Ms Pagniano’s remains were discovered in Prescott, Arizona.

She had been bound, gagged and buried alive in a hand-dug, shallow grave.

Her husband was arrested and charged with her murder.

“Sandra was kidnapped from her home while her children slept nearby, bound in packing tape, driven to a remote location and buried alive,” Yavapai County Attorney Dennis McGrane said in a statement on Friday.

Sandra Pagniano was last seen on 19 May 2017
Sandra Pagniano was last seen on 19 May 2017 (Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office)

Authorities said that evidence showed Ms Pagniano “vigorously struggled while she was in the grave, and was likely conscious for up to five minutes after being buried.”

Investigators gleaned a key piece of evidence linking her husband to the murder: his cellphone showed that he had been in the area days before his wife’s disappearance and on the night she went missing.

Initially, Pagniano denied “any knowledge” of his wife’s whereabouts, according to the Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office.

But, before his trial was due to get under way on 9 May, Pagniano changed his pleaded guilty to the charges.

David Michael Pagniano pictured in mug shot
David Michael Pagniano pictured in mug shot (Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office)

He did not reach a plea deal in the case and prosecutors sought the death penalty due to the “horrific circumstances” and debauched acts inflicted on the “young mother,” according to Yavapai County Attorney Dennis McGrane.

Now, Yavapai County Judge David Mackey has sentenced him to life in prison without the possibility of parole for the murder.

He also received an additional 16-year sentence for kidnap, forgery, and fraud schemes.

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