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Gruesome details emerge in Copperopolis murder case

From the Calaveras Enterprise:

An Oct. 24 preliminary hearing lasting approximately seven hours and involving the testimonies of 11 witnesses called by the prosecution painted a gruesome picture of a woman who was stabbed repeatedly and left to die inside a burning vehicle.

Visiting Judge Gary R. Hahn found sufficient evidence for a trial on all counts, including first degree murder and a special allegation of torture, in the case of defendant David Joseph Fagundes, 41, who stands accused of stabbing his half-sister, 49-year-old Toni Jilbert, and setting fire to his own Chervrolet HHR while she was still breathing inside.

“She was burned to death for several minutes. That’s torture,” concluded Judge Hahn at the end of the hearing at the Calaveras County Superior Court.

The defense called no witnesses to refute the claims of the peace officers, investigators, fire personnel and medical examiners who testified, but contested that there was no evidence established by the prosecution linking the defendant to the stabbing or the setting of the fire.

Instead, Public Defender Richard Esquivel suggested that Fagundes had "lost a great deal of blood," woken up at the scene and moved toward the roadway to "find help."

According to witnesses, Fagundes did not display concern for his sister following an hour-long standoff that occurred roughly 200 yards away from the burnt vehicle on rural Telegraph Road, near the intersection with Highway 4, in Copperopolis on May 29.

The suspect was first spotted by California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) Captain Nick Shawkey, who stated in his testimony that he saw a male subject “sit up in the grass and lay back down” while leaving the scene of the car and grass fires in his station's engine.

The sighting occurred roughly 10 hours after Shawkey had initially arrived at the scene – at approximately 7:20 a.m. that morning – and identified a charred body in the back seat of the vehicle after his crew extinguished the flames.

After locating Fagundes, the situation quickly escalated into a standoff with law enforcement during which the defendant repeatedly claimed to have a gun, spewed threats and profanity, and refused to show officers his left hand, according to witnesses.

Fagundes was aggressive and “not in his right state of mind,” testified Sgt. Ken Grognet with the Calaveras County Sheriff’s Office, who was on the scene that day with many other law enforcement officers.

When asked by the prosecution how close he was to shooting the defendant, sheriff’s office Lt. Tim Sturn responded, “Extremely close,” citing the officers’ training and experience as the sole reasons for Fagundes’ survival.

The suspect was ultimately apprehended utilizing less-lethal projectiles and a K9, according to officers. He was not wearing a shirt when he was taken into custody and had a bloody stab wound on his neck that appeared to be non-lethal.

Sheriff’s office Detective Rudi Leon recalled that Fagundes refused to answer questions and requested an attorney when he arrived to interview him at a hospital in Modesto shortly after his arrest.

In the days following the incident, investigators reviewed surveillance footage from several gas stations between Copperopolis and Manteca, where Jilbert resided.

Jilbert had reportedly been living with her new husband and had recently taken the last name Ferreira, though she was referred to by her maiden name during court proceedings.

Footage from a Power Mart gas station near the siblings’ uncle’s home in Manteca showed Jilbert withdrawing cash from an ATM and purchasing cigarettes and lottery tickets at approximately 2:26 p.m. on May 28, according to investigators.

That evening, at approximately 7:30 p.m., Fagundes could be seen wearing camouflage shorts and a dark-colored jersey with the number 89, filling up a red gas can.

Later in the evening at around 11:30 p.m., a male matching Fagundes’ description and clothing could be seen in surveillance footage picking up Jilbert from her work at a Wendy’s and driving off in a maroon Chevrolet HHR, investigators said.

According to Scott Bridges, special investigations deputy with the sheriff’s office, an interview with the siblings’ uncle Dan Fagundes revealed that David Fagundes visited his home in Manteca on May 28 and shared his plan to “surprise” Jilbert by picking her up from work before he left for a construction job in Sacramento.

Bridges did not recall Dan Fagundes expressing any concerns surrounding that plan, nor did he state any troubling details about the siblings’ relationship, he said.

Jilbert was last seen alive in the Wendy’s surveillance footage getting picked up by David Fagundes, according to investigators.

Her body was positively identified by Calaveras County Coroner Kevin Raggio using dental records, and an autopsy was performed by the pathologist for the coroner’s office, Dr. Robert Lawrence.

The cause of death was determined to be smoke inhalation, Lawrence testified. The trauma from the stab wounds – two in the abdomen and one in the chest, collapsing Jilbert’s lung – were contributing factors and likely occurred minutes before her death.

Due to the condition of the remains, Lawrence said he could not determine if there were additional wounds or blunt force trauma inflicted in the hours surrounding Jilbert’s death.

Likewise, he could not determine if Jilbert was conscious at the time of death.

Toxicology results showed showed “very high” levels of methamphetamine in the victim’s system, though the presence of the drug would not have caused her to fall unconscious, Lawrence said.

When shown a photo of a buck knife found in Fagundes’ car and a folding knife found in his pocket at the time of his arrest, Lawrence testified that either knife could match the stab wounds on Jilbert’s body, though many other knives could also match.

Blood stains on Fagundes’ shorts, as well as the folding knife and a knife sheath he was wearing at the time of his arrest, were tested for DNA evidence by the Department of Justice (DOJ), according to Detective Nichole Riviera with the sheriff’s office.

In her correspondence with a DOJ criminologist, Riviera learned that DNA matching Fagundes was found on the shorts, and a mixture of Fagundes’ and Jilbert’s DNA was found on the knife and sheath, she testified.

In his investigation of the fire, Cal Fire Battalion Chief Matthew Gilbert determined that ignition occurred inside the vehicle, within the general vicinity of the body in the back seat, and that the blaze spread outward from the car, causing a grass fire.

Traces of gasoline were found inside the car, Gilbert said, and another investigator with the sheriff’s office testified that he identified a melted, red gas can while he was searching the vehicle's interior for evidence.

Additionally, a black jersey with the number 89 was allegedly found inside the vehicle, reportedly matching the description of the shirt worn by Fagundes in surveillance footage the night before the incident.

In his concluding statement, Judge Hahn pointed to the presence of the jersey in the burned car as strong evidence that Fagundes had indeed ignited the fire.

Additional evidence reportedly found by investigators was a fire extinguisher with its contents sprayed at the perimeter of the grass fire before first responders arrived, a lighter laying in the grass nearby and a Wendy’s box in the front seat of the vehicle.

The prosecution did not attempt to establish a motive during the hearing, relying on “sufficient evidence” to make their case.

Fagundes sat motionless throughout the proceedings, occasionally glancing at Jilbert’s supporters in the courtroom and making comments to his attorneys.

Following the judge’s ruling, the defendant appeared distressed and pressed his attorneys for an explanation before shaking their hands and exiting the courtroom in shackles.

Charged with murder, torture, issuing threats and resisting an executive officer, Fagundes faces enhancements for use of a deadly weapon and prior felony convictions including burglary in Montana, battery in Idaho and first-degree manslaughter in Washington state.

The defendant has denied or pleaded not guilty to all charges.


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