Woman gets 20-25 years in prison for murder of Onslow County man

Published: Jul. 6, 2022 at 6:24 PM EDT
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JACKSONVILLE, N.C. (WITN) - A woman who escaped to Alabama in 2019 after stabbing a man to death and burying his body in his backyard has been sentenced to prison.

Onslow County District Attorney Ernie Lee says Saundra Wagner pled guilty to second-degree murder Tuesday and was sentenced to an active sentence of between 20 and 25 years in state prison.

The case goes back to April 7th, 2019, when Lee says evidence shows at about 9:44 p.m., an Onslow County deputy was dispatched to 101 Chasity Way in Hubert for a welfare check. The daughter of James Pannoni asked for a welfare check for her father because she was told by other family members that his vehicle was found in a trailer park and seemed to be abandoned.

The Onslow County deputy was unable to reach Pannoni at the address, but they found an abandoned vehicle between two vacant trailers near Patriot Place mobile home park on Hubert Boulevard. A woman who lived at the complex told deputies that around midnight of April 6th, she heard two vehicles arrive. A car and a truck drove in, and when she woke up on the 7th, the truck was parked between the abandoned trailers.

At 101 Chasity Way, deputies found no signs of a disturbance, and could not reach Pannoni, but his daughter said that he was involved with a woman, Wagner.

Lee says on April 8th, 2019, a detective went to 504 Mattocks Road in Maysville to speak with Wagner, who said she lied to a deputy about seeing Pannoni the previous evening. She said that Pannoni had been at her home, but when deputies looked for him, he ran out the back door and was picked up in a white SUV by an unknown woman, the same woman that Wagner said dropped him off the night before. According to evidence shown in court, Wagner’s statements did not add up, and she declined to write a statement.

WITN is told that a search warrant was carried out at 101 Chasity Way and detectives learned from Pannoni’s family members that he and Wagner had dated and separated, but had recently gotten back together.

However, according to Lee, Pannoni told a friend that Wagner got some of his bank information, and that was the “last straw.” After that, he ended the relationship, but Wagner smashed his laptop. Pannoni’s family and friends also told detectives that Wagner had made several charges on his credit cards.

On the evening of April 8th, 2019, when the search warrant was carried out at 101 Chasity Way, the inside of the house was neat and organized, but detectives noticed that a flower bed in the backyard appeared much more well-maintained than the landscaping in the front of the house. Furthermore, the flowers were not completely planted and some of the plants were in the plastic container they were sold in.

Lee says they unearthed the flower bed and found a dead man, Pannoni, wrapped in several pieces of plastic. It appeared that an attempt had been made to dismember the body. Detectives were able to confirm that Wagner had bought the materials used to make the flower bed from the Walmart in Swansboro.

The medical examiner found four stab wounds to Pannoni’s chest and two cuts to his forearm, which seemed to be defensive wounds. The death was ruled a homicide, according to Lee.

WITN is told that a man went to Onslow County deputies and told them on March 31st, 2019, Wagner called him and told him she did something stupid, using Pannoni’s credit card. She wanted this man to pose as the victim to speak to employees at Altitude Trampoline Park so she would not get caught. When she showed up at his home at around 6 a.m. the next day, she said “I did something really bad, I killed him. I stabbed him.” She was asked who, to which she replied “James.”

The man told deputies that on April 9th, 2019, she said she was leaving town and asked him for money. Detectives could not find her until they were told she had been found in Dothan, Alabama where she was in critical condition after a vehicle crash. They believed she was trying to get to Mexico. She was jailed in Onslow County on May 1st, 2019.

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