A federal judge has decided to hold off on an obstruction of justice trial for the man accused of killing his girlfriend in Panama.
Brian Brimager, 38, is the lead suspect in the death of Yvonne Baldelli, who went missing while the two were on vacation in Central America in 2011.
Baldelli’s remains were found in a zipped bag off the coast of Isla Carenero in Aug. 2013.
A federal grand jury charged Brimager with obstructing justice and making false statements to law enforcement, and he was arrested by the FBI in the Vista area on June 26, 2013.
Prosecutors allege he underwent an elaborate scheme to cover up Baldelli’s death.
On Friday, the federal judge heard a defense motion to dismiss charges against Brimager. The judge did not throw out the charges, but he also did not set a trial date, calling the hearing a “dicey matter.”
While prosecutors were expecting a trial date, they accepted a 90-day motion.
Baldelli’s family said the delay will give officials in Panama more time to gather the evidence.
Brimager’s defense said there has to be a “clear nexus” in the case, and if it goes to a jury trial, they want wording on the charges changed.
James Faust Jr., Baldelli’s brother, told NBC 7 it was heart-wrenching to see the “emaciated” Brimager in court Friday, but the family is glad he has not been released from custody.
“The jumpsuit suits him very well though, and those shackles, those chains on his ankles are music to my ears," said Baldelli’s sister Michele Valenzuela.
According to the grand jury indictment, Brimager and Baldelli traveled to Bocas Del Toro, Panama, in Sept. 2011. They stayed in a hostel on Isla Carenero, an island off the coast accessible only by boat.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office accused Brimager of physically abusing Baldelli, and she was last seen with him at a Panamanian restaurant on Nov. 26, 2011.
Prosecutors allege that soon after that, Brimager killed Baldelli. Investigators said he then tried to cover up her death by sending emails to family and friends from her laptop, posing as Baldelli. The emails said she was traveling to Costa Rica with another man.
Brimager allegedly disposed of a bloody mattress from their Isla Carenero hostel by dumping it in the ocean, investigators said. According to the indictment, Brimager had done two internet searches on Baldelli’s laptop for instructions on getting blood stains out of a mattress.
Court documents also accuse Brimager of packing Baldelli’s belongings into ten large garbage bags and leaving them on the dock outside their hostel for disposal.
Brimager then used Baldelli’s ATM card in Costa Rica and San Jose to make it look like she was still alive, prosecutors said.
When investigators questioned the suspect about Baldelli’s disappearance, they said Brimager lied to them and claimed she took her laptop to travel. That same laptop was found in his possession in 2012, at which point he changed his story and said the device never went to Panama and he never sent emails from it.
Nearly two years after vanishing, Baldelli’s body was discovered on a small island off the Isla Carenero coastline. Forensic scientists used DNA analysis on the skull and bones to identify her.
Brimager now faces 13 charges in connection with Baldelli’s death. If convicted on all counts, he would have to serve a maximum sentence of 205 years in prison and a $2.5 million fine.
Baldelli’s family said if Brimager goes to trial and is convicted in the U.S., they hope he will then be extradited to Panama to face murder charges.
“Justice is most important for us, and justice will be done when he is incarcerated – like I said – for the rest of his life,” said Baldelli’s father James Faust.
Many of the family members have made it a priority to attend Brimager’s hearings en masse.
“He did everything he could, hoping that people would forget her and not investigate and try to cover his tracks. But it didn’t work and we’re all here and he’s in jail,” said Baldelli’s niece Lauren Beyer.
NBC 7 reached out to Brimager’s defense attorney, but so far, no response has been returned.