SAN DIEGO–Just a few hours after murdering his girlfriend in Panama and chopping up her body with a machete, retired Marine Brian Karl Brimager sent an email to a friend: “Hey bro, whatcha up to? I got stories for days. I’m living on an island off the coast of panama loving life and living semper free!!!!!!”
A few days later, after he’d disposed of Yvonne Baldelli’s body in the Panamanian jungle, Brimager accessed her bank account and used the money to buy rounds of drinks for female friends at a bar. “Thanks Vonnie,” he announced, as he raised his glass in a toast.
After returning to the United States, Brimager received an email from another friend who told him to say hello to Baldelli. In his reply, Brimager wrote that he’d “ditched the bitch.” In a social media post about the sale of the machete he used to sever Baldelli’s limbs, Brimager joked: “I only dismembered one stripper with it – it’s hardly used.”
Because of the heinous nature of the crime and his actions afterward – particularly the way he celebrated her death and tormented Baldelli’s family with his elaborate cover up – Brimager was sentenced in federal court by U.S. District Judge Jeffrey T. Miller today to 26 years in prison, ending a long and legally challenging FBI-led investigation and prosecution spanning thousands of miles, multiple countries and more than four years.
“The day of reckoning has come for Brian Brimager,” said U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy. “Not only did he show a callous disregard for Yvonne Baldelli’s life by viciously beating, stabbing, dismembering and dumping her in the jungle, but his words and actions in the hours, days and months following his horrendous crime exhibited an extreme lack of remorse. He stole a precious daughter, sister, aunt and friend, and now he is paying the price.”
“I hope today’s sentencing brings some closure to Ms. Baldelli’s family, knowing that her murderer will serve a very long prison sentence for her cruel and vicious murder,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Eric S. Birnbaum. “I commend the professionalism and dedication of our international law enforcement partners, the prosecutors and the FBI agents here in San Diego and Panama who worked tirelessly to obtain justice for Yvonne Baldelli.”
Judge Miller also ordered Brimager to pay $11,132 in restitution to Baldelli’s father and a $10,000 fine.
At the sentencing hearing, prosecutors argued that the circumstances of the crime – including mutilation of the body and Brimager’s multiple attempts to convince Baldelli’s family that she was still alive – amounted to “extreme conduct,” a legal term of art that merits an enhanced sentence.
Prosecutors told the court at today’s hearing that eight witnesses in Panama related separate incidents to the FBI in which they saw Brimager beating, punching, choking and threatening to kill Baldelli. When the 220-pound ex-Marine killed the 110-pound Baldelli on November 27, 2011, the evidence showed that he broke her teeth and nose and stabbed her multiple times before dragging her lifeless body to the shower, where he mutilated her.
Judge Miller agreed that these actions amounted to extreme conduct and handed down a sentence that is stronger than a typical second-degree murder term. “This murder was particularly cruel and depraved,” the judge said. “The lengths Mr. Brimager went to to avoid detection were particularly brazen and ultimately shattering to the Bardelli family. I dare say they will never recover. A day may never go by without them thinking of Ms. Baldelli’s murder and the images seared in to their psyches.”
During the hearing, nine members of Baldelli’s family, including her parents, sister, nieces and closest friends, told the court how they have suffered emotionally and physically because of the loss, the way in which she was killed, and the torture of not knowing her whereabouts. Some described in wrenching detail their search for her body in the muddy spider-infested swamps of the Panamanian jungle – too afraid to find her, too afraid not to.
During the court hearing, Brimager faced family members seated in the gallery and said he was sorry. But the family wasn’t receptive. “Don’t look at us!” someone fired back. “Sure,” scoffed another.
During her victim impact statement before the court, Michelle Faust, Baldelli’s sister, said: “Today we got an apology – a hollow last-minute attempt to save himself. Last night we talked about forgiveness. But 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.”
According to sentencing documents, after dismembering her body, Brimager stuffed her torso into a military duffle bag and shoved her lower limbs into garbage bags. He then hiked approximately 1.5 miles to the other side of the island where he threw the duffle bag and garbage bags down an embankment into the remote Panamanian jungle — where they remained for 21 months until a local Panamanian stumbled onto the duffle bag containing her skeletonized remains.
Brimager pleaded guilty on February 24 before U.S. District Judge Jeffrey Miller to Foreign Murder of a United States National. In his guilty plea, Brimager also admitted that he obstructed the investigation into her murder by destroying, concealing and disposing of evidence, including a blood-stained mattress, clothes and jewelry; killed Baldelli’s two dogs; accessed Baldelli’s email account after her murder and impersonated Baldelli in emails sent from her account to friends and family; withdrew money from Baldelli’s bank account in Costa Rica after her death; and provided false statements to an FBI agent – all in an attempt to make it seem as though Baldelli were alive and well and traveling with another man in Costa Rica.
Brimager has been in custody since June 2013.