Colorado woman’s remains found under grave of WWII veteran

John Sandoval passes Detective Mike Prill as he is escorted out of the courtroom on Friday, March 31, 2017, at the Weld County Courthouse in Greeley, Colo., after pleading guilty to second-degree murder. He led Greeley police to the remains of his wife Tina Tournai-Sandoval, last week in exchange for a lessor sentence. (Joshua Polson /The Greeley Tribune via AP)

DENVER (AP) – A Colorado man who pleaded guilty Friday to killing his estranged wife more than two decades ago recently led authorities to her body, which was buried under the grave of a World War II veteran.

John Sandoval, 52, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and was sentenced to 25 years in prison for the 1995 death of Kristina Tournai-Sandoval.

As part of a plea deal, he told investigators March 22 the remains were buried at a Greeley cemetery.

Sandoval found an open gravesite early in the morning on Oct. 20, 1995, that was scheduled for a burial that afternoon. Prosecutors say he dug about 2 feet (0.61 meters) below the grave and buried Tournai-Sandoval’s body, which was wrapped in several layers of industrial-grade plastic.

Cemetery workers then unknowingly buried the veteran over her remains.

That day, detectives found a wet and muddy shovel in Sandoval’s car and muddy clothes inside his home. After he was arrested, investigators noticed scratch marks on his face, neck and chest.

Charges were not filed at the time because authorities could not find the body, any witnesses or a crime scene.

“For 7,826 days, 3 hours and 22 minutes, the location of Tina’s remains has been a mystery,” Weld County District Attorney Michael Rourke said in a news release Friday. “Over the course of the last week, we have finally been able to give her family what they so desperately wanted.”

Sandoval was convicted in 2010 of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison. But an appeals court overturned his conviction last year, ruling a judge wrongfully allowed evidence that Sandoval stalked other women, as well as expert testimony correlating stalkers with murderers.

Prosecutors had been preparing for a new trial when Sandoval acknowledged knowing the location of his wife’s body.

Court records show Sandoval had met with his wife to settle a debt before finalizing their divorce. Before the meeting, she warned family members that if anything happened to her, her husband was responsible. She also arranged to talk with her sister by phone after the meeting.

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