Surveillance footage and testimonies from family members have painted a near-complete picture of the day before 49-year-old Manteca woman Toni Jilbert (Ferreira) was found dead in her half-brother David Fagundes’ charred vehicle on a rural Copperopolis road.
The siblings’ cousin Christina McCoy on Thursday testified at the Calaveras County Superior Court that Fagundes, 42, showed up unexpectedly on the morning of May 28, 2019 at her uncle’s compound in Manteca, where she and a few other relatives were also living at the time. She said she was pleased to see the defendant, though he seemed “out of it” and was “maybe on drugs.”
McCoy stated that Fagundes seemed “nervous, irritated and upset” when he allegedly told her that pictures of his young adult daughters’ faces were being placed on porn websites.
When asked what she thought about Fagundes’ concerns, McCoy said they “sounded crazy” and that the defendant was not able to find any of the purported pictures on his phone to show her.
“I didn’t believe it was really happening. I believe he thought it was,” she said. Later, she stated he was “talking nonsense.”
McCoy said Fagundes would not tell her who it was he believed was posting the pictures, though he indicated that she knew the culprit personally “but didn’t know they were doing it.” The defendant had driven all the way from Washington state to “take care of the problem,” she said.
Later in the morning, Jilbert also came to visit, McCoy said. The two siblings seemed “happy to see each other” and “hugged for a long time.” Fagundes drove Jilbert to her work at Wendy’s and returned for the majority of the day, coming and going occasionally, hanging out with family members and playing his guitar.
McCoy said Fagundes also showed her the interior of his maroon Chevrolet HHR, which he had recently purchased and “was proud of.” She said the back seats were lowered and that she did not see a gas can in the car, though their uncle had gas cans “all over the property.”
At approximately 7:30 p.m. that evening, surveillance footage obtained by investigators from the Manteca Power Mart gas station showed a man who appeared to be Fagundes filling up a red gas can at the pump and placing it in his car. Several hours later, he could be seen again purchasing a soda.
Jilbert’s husband, Ronald Ferreira, whom she had married just seven weeks prior to her death, wiped away tears as he watched surveillance footage of Jilbert’s final minutes working at Wendy’s. In the footage, the petite woman with her blonde hair in a ponytail could be seen filling an order before leaving with a man who appeared to be Fagundes in his Chevrolet HHR just before midnight.
“That’s her,” Ferreira said, overcome with emotion from the final images of Jilbert alive.
Ferreira testified that he usually picked up his wife from work but was informed that he wouldn’t need to that night. He said he stayed up late waiting for Jilbert to return and exchanged text messages with her until approximately 3:30 a.m., “hurt” and “upset” that she was not home.
The jury also heard several expert testimonies Thursday and Friday, bringing to light the gruesome details of Jilbert’s horrific death.
Pathologist Robert Lawrence, MD, stated it was “very doubtful” that Jilbert was unconscious during the fire that ultimately caused her death in the early hours of May 29, 2019. He testified that the three stab wounds to the victim’s chest and abdomen would have eventually been fatal, though he determined her death was the result of burns and smoke inhalation.
He stated that either of the two knives found at the scene could have caused the stab wounds, though it was impossible to determine.
Toxicology results showed Jilbert had a small amount of alcohol and a high amount of methamphetamine in her system at the time of death, Lawrence said.
Fagundes, who wore a mask, turned away from the screen when the jury was shown graphic photos of the charred body in the driver’s side back seat, which appeared to be lowered.
Cal Fire Battalion Chief Matthew Gilbert determined the fire’s origin to be in the area of the driver’s side front and back seats, where the body was located, he testified. He classified the cause of the fire as arson, in part due to the unusual circumstances of Fagundes engaging in a standoff with law enforcement at the scene roughly 10 hours after his burning car was discovered, he said.
His determination was also influenced by the video footage of Fagundes loading a gas can into his car the day before, Gilbert said.
That gas can was never positively identified at the scene, though investigators photographed a piece of melted, red plastic reportedly retrieved from the rear passenger side of the vehicle.
Vincent Keokot, a criminalist for the California Department of Justice (DOJ) testified that all three samples taken from the vehicle—two samples of cushion material and a piece of burnt fabric—tested positive for gasoline or indication of gasoline.
According to investigators, the samples were taken from the area of the car where the body was found.
DNA testing of a knife sheath found on Fagundes at the time of his arrest indicated a mixture of Fagundes’ and Jilbert’s DNA, according to DOJ criminologist Sheltri Gresham. Samples taken from the defendant’s bloodstained shorts and folding knife showed mostly his own DNA, she said.
The trial will continue Monday morning and is expected to conclude on Tuesday. It is undetermined if Fagundes will take the stand Monday.
Fagundes could face a maximum sentence of life in prison if found guilty of first-degree murder and arson, with a special allegation of torture. He has also been charged with resisting arrest and issuing violent threats, as well as several enhancements due to the nature of the charges.