The family of a woman whose dismembered remains were found dumped in a swamp in Panama felt a sense of relief Friday after the man suspected in the murder was formally charged.
“After all these years, there is a sense of relief – a sense of validation – that he has been formally charged,” the victim’s niece, Lauren Beyer, said in an exclusive interview with NBC 7.
Beyer was referring to Brian Brimager, a 37-year-old retired Marine accused in the 2011 killing of his girlfriend, Yvonne Baldelli, 37.
Brimager is suspected of dumping Baldelli’s remains in the Panamanian jungle before undergoing an elaborate scheme to cover up the murder, including sending emails to Baldelli’s friends and family from her laptop to make it seem as if she were still alive.
A federal grand jury in San Diego indicted Brimager on a charge of foreign murder of a U.S. National Friday. He pleaded not guilty.
The formal charges were a major break in the case for Baldelli’s family who has struggled for years seeking justice for their loved one.
On Friday, family members came from as far away as New York to see Brimager get charged after all this time.
“There is no sense of remorse. There is no glimmer of humanity in his eyes,” Beyer said of the man accused in the grisly murder of her aunt.
According to the family, they saw exactly what they expected in that courtroom from the accused murder suspect.
“He's a cold, methodical person,” said James Faust, Baldelli’s father.
Beyer told NBC 7 she couldn’t help but stare at the hands of the defendant in the courtroom.
“These are the hands that did this,” she said, overcome with emotion. “These are the hands that are responsible for killing her.”
In September 2011, Brimager, a former Camp Pendleton Marine, and Baldelli traveled to Panama to stay on Isla Carenero, an island off the coast accessible only by boat.
Baldelli was last seen with Brimager at a Panamanian restaurant on Nov. 26, 2011.
After Baldelli turned up missing, family members joined the search for her in the swamps of Panama against the backdrop of happy, tanning tourists – a difficult memory Beyer said she will never forget.
“It's surreal; it’s horrible. And all the while there are people having Tequila Sunrises [on the beach] and listening to Jimmy Buffet,” she recounted. “It's the worst thing you could ever experience.”
The family said Brimager returned to the U.S. two weeks after Baldelli disappeared. According to prosecutors, the defendant then allegedly pretended to be Baldelli in emails sent to family and friends to make it appear like she was still alive and traveling to Costa Rica with another man.
He also allegedly used Baldelli’s ATM card in Costa Rica and San Jose.
Prosecutors allege Brimager killed Baldelli and later disposed of a bloody mattress at their hostel. Court documents say Brimager used the victim’s laptop to search for information on how to get blood stains out of a mattress.
Brimager is also accused of stuffing Baldelli’s belongings into garbage bags and disposing of the bags on a dock outside their hostel.
Prosecutors said Brimager lied to investigators about Baldelli’s disappearance and told them she took her laptop while traveling. Her laptop was found in his possession in 2012, at which point he changed his story, adding that he never sent emails from it.
Nearly two years after she vanished, Baldelli’s body was found on a small island off the Isla Carenero coastline. Scientists used DNA analysis on her skull and bones to identify her.
Today, her family seeks justice and they said neither time nor distance can discourage them in their pursuit.
“I had a special relationship with Yvonne. We always had a special bond,” Faust said.
“We were always very close, since I was a little girl,” added Beyer. “The fact that this day has come; it means a lot to me.”
The defense has requested three months to go over the Panamanian government's investigation of the murder laid out in hundreds of pages and documents.
The case returns to court for a status hearing June 27.
Charges are pending against Brimager in Panama as well.