Man sentenced to prison for the 2017 death of his wife, who was buried alive

PRESCOTT, Ariz. — 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, authorities said.

Seven years after the murder, David Pagniano decided to plead guilty before his trial was set to begin and allowed a judge to determine his sentence without a plea deal.

Pagniano, 62, was also sentenced May 9 to 16.5 years in prison for kidnapping, forgery and fraud, according to the Yavapai County Prosecutor’s Office.

“My office has sought the death penalty in this case due to the horrific circumstances surrounding the kidnapping and murder of a young mother,” District Attorney Dennis McGrane said in a statement.

According to authorities, 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 divorced but still lived in the same house with their two young daughters.

Sandra Pagniano’s body was found bound and gagged in packing tape in 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 evidence showed Sandra Pagniano struggled violently as she lay in the grave and may have been conscious for as long as five minutes.

They said cellphone evidence showed David Pagniano was in the grave days before his wife went missing and on the night of the kidnapping.

Detectives have recovered two notes filed in the divorce case after Sandra Pagniano’s disappearance, allegedly written by her.

The notes stated that she left David Pagniano and gave him her vehicles, home and custody of their children.

But authorities said a forensic examination of the notes showed they were written by David Pagniano.

A grand jury indicted him on first-degree murder charges 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.