By Marty Graham
SAN DIEGO (Reuters) - A former U.S. Marine was charged on Friday with murdering a woman who went missing in 2011 after traveling with him to Panama and whose dismembered remains were found in the remote jungle two years later.
Brian Brimager, 37, is accused in a federal grand jury indictment of killing and dismembering 42-year-old Yvonne Baldelli and then engaging in an elaborate cover-up of the crime that included sending emails from the dead woman's account to her friends and family members.
Brimager pleaded innocent during a hearing in U.S. District Court in San Diego. His attorney could not be reached for comment.
Family members of the slain woman said after the hearing that they were grateful to prosecutors for "finding a way to charge" Brimager with the murder.
"He put a lot of effort and energy into getting away with this," Baldelli's sister, Michelle Faust, told Reuters in an interview. "My sister did not deserve to be murdered and thrown away like trash."
According to the indictment, Brimager and Baldelli moved together in September 2011 from Los Angeles to the Panamanian archipelago of Bocas del Toro, where they rented a room in a hostel on Isla Carenero.
Soon after arriving there, Brimager began emailing with another woman, the mother of his young daughter, to discuss moving back to California, prosecutors say, and he physically abused Baldelli, leaving her with bruises on her arms and around her eyes.
Brimager is accused in the indictment of murdering Baldelli in November 2011, dismembering her body and disposing of the parts in a remote jungle area of the island, before destroying evidence and sending the misleading emails.
He is also accused of withdrawing money from her bank account, using ATMs in Costa Rica to suggest that she had traveled there.
The indictment alleges that Brimager tried to dispose of the bloody mattress involved in Baldelli's murder, conducting Internet searches to find out how to clean a bloody mattress.
Brimager has been in federal custody since June 2013, when he was charged with making false statements to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. If convicted of the murder charge, he could face the death penalty.
(Reporting by Marty Graham; Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Mohammad Zargham)