A Colorado man who previously had his first-murder case overturned has now reached a plea agreement and led police to the remains of his dead wife.
John Sandoval, 52, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder Friday, March 31, in Greeley District Court. According to an agreement with prosecutors, Sandoval will serve 25 years in prison and five years of parole in exchange for leading investigators to where he buried Tina Sandoval.
Prosecutors say the woman’s remains were hidden under a grave of a World War II solider. Tina Sandoval, 23, was wrapped in plastic and buried approximately two feet under the solider.
The plea agreement came less than a week before John Sandoval was to stand trial again in the death of his wife back on Oct. 19, 1995. Sandoval became the prime suspect after investigators learned the couple was estranged and that he was the last person to see her alive. Tina Sandoval disappeared after a meeting with her husband. Her mother reported her missing.
Tina Sandoval had also told her sister that if anything happened her, “it would be his doing.”
The case eventually went cold until 2009 when John Sandoval was charged with first-degree murder. Prosecutors alleged that Sandoval killed Tina because he didn’t want her to marry another man.
Sandoval was convicted of murder in August 2010.
Sandoval was in prison in March 2016 when the Colorado Court of appeals overturned the conviction and awarded him a new trial. A few weeks later, his lawyers reached an agreement that Sandoval would show police where Tina was buried. Her cause of death has not been determined.
For 22 years, Tina Sandoval was in Sunset Memorial Garden in Greeley, Colorado. The grave her husband placed her in was one in which veteran Arthur Hert would be eventually buried. John Sandoval discovered the solider’s open grave and buried Tina 21 inches below where Hert’s remains were laid to rest.
John Sandoval was a previous employee of the cemetery and was familiar with the property, police said. To find Tina Sandoval, authorities obtained permission from Hert’s family in Wyoming to exhume his remains. Hert was re-buried the next day.
“For 7,826 days, 3 hours and 22 minutes, the location of Tina’s remains has been a mystery,” District Attorney Michael Rourke told the court during Sandoval’s plea hearing. “One that has haunted her family and the investigators who worked this case from the minute it was reported, and the community as a whole. While the original conviction served to hold this defendant accountable for the atrocious act he committed, the lingering question as to her whereabouts cast a shadow over this prosecution. Over the course of the last week, we have finally been able to give her family what they so desperately wanted. Tina has been returned to her family and may finally be laid to rest.”
Tina Sandoval’s family released a statement Friday, calling the last two decades a “horrible ordeal.” They also called John Sandoval a murderer.
“You might wonder, ‘What is it like to be asked to weigh in on a plea offer in exchange for knowing where the body of your loved one was tossed aside?'” the statement reads. “We are a large family with a vast array of feelings. And yet, we were able to come to a consensus on the plea. For as much as we have all longed to recover Tine, it was nonetheless very disturbing to receive word of a plea offer… in the end we reached our decision as a family and we are at peace with it. “
A family burial service is pending.
John Sandoval told the court he was sorry for his actions. He will be eligible for parole in 2028.
[Featured Image from Greeley District Court]