Tears flowed from Cole Bilderback’s loved ones after his father, David Bilderback, was sentenced to 15 years in prison for the shooting death of his son.
On Thursday, Calaveras County Superior Court Judge Timothy Healy sentenced Bilderback, 50, to 11 years in prison for voluntary manslaughter and an additional four years for the use of a firearm in the crime.
Bilderback pleaded guilty on July 7 to those charges, with a possible sentence ranging from six to 16 years for the killing that occurred on Sept. 28, 2017, at Bilderback’s Avery automotive repair shop, Dave’s Pit Stop.
During the sentencing hearing, Cole’s mother, Tyana Ladouceur, argued for justice in the killing of her 19-year-old son, whom she described as a naive, soft-spoken young man who stayed with Bilderback because “he thought his dad would change.”
Ladouceur painted her ex-partner as an “unpredictable” alcoholic with a history of shooting unarmed civilians while serving in the military. She claimed the 2017 killing happened after Cole called his father “a drunk” and Bilderback shot him in a rage.
A letter from Cole’s brother, Canyon, was also read by Ladouceur, alleging emotional and physical abuse from Bilderback towards both his sons and a persona assumed with Dave’s Pit Stop customers that was not an accurate representation of the man.
“My brother saw our father for what he was: a wolf in sheep’s clothing, and he loathed him for it,” Canyon’s letter stated.
Bilderback spoke before the court, apologizing for the first time to family members for the death of Cole and providing his own account of what happened that night in 2017.
The defendant stated he went to bed with a migraine and awoke to a noise outside, which he went to investigate with a loaded 12-gauge shotgun. He asked Cole, who was playing video games, to “back him up,” which led to bickering, as Cole did not want to go. Bildlerback claimed that Cole pushed him, and his own hand tightened on the trigger, causing him to accidentally shoot his son in the chest. He stated that he sat with Cole, holding his hand and his head, and told him he loved him “again and again, until he was gone.”
“I hope I can repair all the damage this has caused everyone,” Bilderback addressed the courtroom. “Our future depends on it.”
In closing, Bilderback’s attorney Richard Esquivel argued that his client’s .15 blood alcohol concentration nine hours after the incident was evidence that he had not begun drinking until after the shooting occurred, opposing the prosecution’s claim that his BAC must have been much higher at the time of the incident.
Flanked by Calaveras County Sheriff’s Office Detective Zachary Glanville, who assisted in the case, Calaveras County Deputy District Attorney Brad Jones said, “The defendant acted with malice when he chose to drink heavily and then start an argument with his son while he was carrying a loaded shotgun, with the safety off, with a round in the chamber, and with his finger on the trigger.”
In issuing his sentence, Healy stated that a lack of alcohol use before the crime would only make the defendant’s actions less forgivable. He rebuked Bilderback’s claim that the shooting was an accident, reminding the defendant that he had pleaded guilty to manslaughter.
He theorized that Bilderback was preparing to flee the scene when his truck was found loaded with firearms and ammunition.
“You didn’t call 911. I know your mom didn’t call 911. You called her first,” Healy said. “You go back and take pictures? Seriously? I don’t get that. I don’t get that at all.”
The judge stated that he was personally familiar with the model of firearm used in the crime and denied any possibility that the gun could have gone off accidentally. Healy also noted a lack of empathy shown by Bilderback during his past three years in the courtroom.
“I don’t think the word ‘callous’ goes far enough,” Healy said.
With credit for time served, Bilderback will spend approximately 10 years in state prison for the shooting death of his son.
“There is just a profound feeling of senseless loss. The defendant’s lifelong struggles with alcohol, and his failures to control his addiction, killed his son,” Jones said after the sentencing.
District Attorney Barbara Yook issued a statement reading, “We are grateful for Judge Healy’s ruling and the enormous level of compassion and respect he demonstrated in court to all those who were there on Cole’s behalf.”