Lack of Body Doesn't Stop Peninsula Conviction

Wednesday, Aug 26, 2009  |  Updated 11:32 AM PDT
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Lack of Body Doesn't Stop Peninsula Conviction

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The hidden hand of Michael Madigan.

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 The man accused of the 1991 killing of a Los Altos woman whose body remains missing has received a six-year prison sentence, the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office announced Monday.
     
Bernardo Bass, 48, was sentenced on Friday in the death of Dawn  Sanchez, then 31, who was last seen on Aug. 30, 1991. At the time of Bass's 2007 arrest, Los Altos police alleged that he had shot and killed Sanchez  during an argument and later disposed of her body.

Bass had pleaded not guilty to charges of voluntary manslaughter,  but in July he changed his plea to "no contest," according to district attorney spokesman Nick Muyo. His trial was set to begin in September.

When asked why his client changed his plea, Bass's attorney Dennis Lempert said that "any jury trial carries with it the risk of conviction, no matter how strong the defense evidence may be or how weak the government's  case may appear."

"Because of the potential risk of a 25-year-to-life sentence, my client decided to accept an offer which resulted in him being sentenced to six years in prison," he said.

In addition to the time he has already spent in custody, Bass must serve at least two years and four months of his sentence, according to Muyo.

Muyo also confirmed today that the excavations performed in a field in San Jose's Alviso community this June were efforts to locate Sanchez's body.

The sight of Los Altos police assisting San Jose officers sparked speculation that the digs were connected to the case. The district attorney's office declined to comment at the time.

The U.S. Geological Survey assisted with ground-penetrating radar, and NASA helped with mapping underground areas, according to Muyo. Cadaver-sniffing dogs from the Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office were also  called in, but Sanchez's body and the murder weapon have not been found, he  said.

Muyo said investigators conducted "exhaustive efforts" to locate Sanchez's body, including excavations, search warrants, and dives into dammed rivers, creeks and a pond.

Bass was first arrested in 1991, but that case was dismissed the following year. He was arrested again in 2007. In a declaration filed with  the court that year, Los Altos police said Sanchez worked as a prostitute, and was last seen in the company of Bass, described as her "boyfriend of  sorts."

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