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Arizona man gets life in prison in murder of wife who "vigorously struggled" after being buried alive, prosecutors say

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 while their children slept, 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.

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.

David Pagniano Yavapai County Sheriff's Office

County Attorney Dennis McGrane said in a statement that his office had pursued the death penalty because of "the horrific circumstances surrounding the abduction and murder" of Sandra Pagniano.

"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."

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 cellphone evidence showed David 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 David 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 David 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 northwest of the couple's home near Prescott in north-central Arizona.

"I hope the life sentence brings some closure to the victim's family," McGrane said.

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