Home News Arizona man gets life in prison for burying wife alive

Arizona man gets life in prison for burying wife alive

An Arizona man has been sentenced to life in prison for burying his wife alive, authorities announced.

David Pagniano, 62, abruptly pleaded guilty on May 9 right before his trial was set to start, Yavapai County Attorney David McGrane said. Pagniano did not cut a plea deal; he simply left his fate in the hands of the judge.

McGrane’s office had pursued the death penalty in the case, in which Pagniano was charged with first-degree murder in the killing of his estranged wife, Sandra, in 2017.

“I hope the life sentence brings some closure to the victim’s family,” McGrane said Friday in a statement.

Sandra Pagniano was 39 years old when she disappeared in May 2017. At the time, she and David were going through a contentious divorce, though they still lived together in a home in Prescott, about 80 miles north of Phoenix.

Searchers found her body in a shallow hand-dug grave in a remote area about 10 miles north of Prescott.

David Pagniano (Yavapai County Sheriff's Office)
David Pagniano (Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office)

“Sandra was kidnapped from her home while her children slept nearby, bound in packing tape, driven to a remote location and buried alive,” McGrane said. “The evidence revealed she vigorously struggled while she was in the grave and was likely conscious for up to five minutes after being buried.”

Cellphone data showed David Pagniano was in the area of the gravesite in the days before her death and the night she went missing, according to prosecutors.

Police also found two notes, purportedly written by Sandra Pagniano, that gave her husband control of her property and custody of the couple’s two children. However, forensic investigators determined the notes were forgeries written by David Pagniano. He also pleaded guilty to kidnapping, forgery and fraud and was sentenced to 16.5 years in prison for those crimes.


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