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David Bilderback

On the eve of a murder trial for the 2017 shooting death of his teenaged son, defendant David Bilderback accepted a plea deal and will face six to 16 years in prison for voluntary manslaughter, with an enhancement for use of a firearm.

Bilderback, 50, was talkative and appeared in good spirits as he signed the paperwork for the agreement, which was reached on Tuesday shortly after his now-canceled trial was confirmed to begin at the Calaveras County Superior Court the following day.

Deputy District Attorney Brad Jones stated during Tuesday’s hearing that the decision was made after speaking with the victim’s mother to drop the defendant’s other charges of murder, assault with a firearm, gross negligence in discharging a firearm and several enhancements.

Had his case gone to trial, Bilderback may have faced a maximum sentence of 25 years to life in prison if found guilty of first degree murder.

A sentencing hearing is now scheduled for Sept. 24, at which time a judge will decide whether Bilderback should be issued a maximum sentence of 16 years, a minimum of six, or somewhere in between.

Bilderback’s attorney Richard Esquivel told the Enterprise that his client has been willing to resolve the case for a sentence of around seven years “all along,” but the prosecution has always argued for double digits.

During the sentencing hearing, the prosecution and defense will have the opportunity to present documents including blood alcohol content test results, photos and testimonies for the judge’s consideration.

Bilderback stated that he intends to speak during the hearing “to tell my side of it,” and expects a number of friends and relatives to speak on his behalf.

“This is just a horrible situation,” Esquivel said. “All along, my client has been saying it was an accident.”

A first responder to the Sept. 28, 2017 incident stated during a preliminary hearing that Bilderback told deputies he killed his son shortly after a family altercation and potential shooting was reported in the dead of night at Dave’s Pit Stop Auto Shop in Avery.

Witnesses testified they found the victim, 19-year-old Cole Bilderback, lying in a pool of blood.

Investigators reportedly found a 12-gauge pump-action shotgun at the scene, as well as eight additional firearms in the trunk of Bilderback’s car.

While being questioned about the death of his son during the preliminary hearing, Bilderback reportedly stated, “Life happens, s**t happens.”

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Dakota graduated from Bret Harte in 2013 and went to Davidson College, NC where she earned a bachelor's degree in Arab studies. After spending time studying in the Middle East and Europe, she is happy to be home, writing about the community she loves.

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