A San Luis Obispo man told a judge Wednesday that he strangled his neighbor last fall over fears about his own health.
During his sentencing hearing, Edmund Nungaray, 61, said he strangled Dierdre Crowley because she had his cell phone, which he called his “lifeline.”
“She refused to return my phone,” he said, reading a prepared statement. “I worried about what would happen if I needed to call for help.”
Nungaray had a heart valve replacement several years ago, his ex-wife previously told the Tribune. And because he was improperly medicated, she said, he suffered numerous seizures, leading to a stroke.
In court, Nungaray said his health was still frail when he lent Crowley his phone. And when she didn’t return it, he said, he became anxious, worrying what would happen if his heart condition required emergency care.
“I was absolutely beside myself,” said Nungaray, who described Crowley as a friend.
Superior Court Judge Jacqueline Duffy formally sentenced Nungaray to 15 years to life in prison — a term that was agreed upon when Nungaray entered a guilty plea to second-degree murder in June.
On Sept. 29, 2012, he and Crowley argued about the cell phone throughout the day. Police responded twice to disturbance calls at the Bullock Garden Apartments, where the two lived, and advised both neighbors to stay in their respective apartments. Yet, the two argued a third time.
During the final confrontation, a neighbor in an adjacent mobile home park heard Nungaray scream, “I’ll choke you out!” while Crowley screamed, “Help me!” As the mobile home resident called 911, Crowley’s screaming stopped.
When police arrived at the complex a third time, a sweating Nungaray answered Crowley’s door. Crowley, meanwhile, was slumped over on a couch, not breathing and without a pulse. A cord was found in Nungaray’s doorway.
“I choked her out,” Nungaray told police.
Crowley was taken off life support several days later. After the strangulation, Crowley’s mother found Nungaray’s phone in the victim’s apartment.
Crowley’s mother chose not to attend the sentencing, said Deputy District Attorney Sandra Mitchell, because she didn’t want her memories of her daughter “tainted by visions of the defendant.”
Mitchell called the murder a senseless act and noted that both police and neighbors had tried to calm Nungaray.
“Instead of calming himself, he kept working himself into more and more anger,” Mitchell said.
Duffy appeared miffed by Nungaray’s statements, which suggested the victim contributed to her death by keeping his phone.
“That there is an individual dead because of this cell phone is utterly incomprehensible,” Duffy said.
Nungaray has a history of misdemeanors, including a previous battery involving another dispute over a phone. According to a protective order filed with the court, he also beat his brother with a baseball bat in 2004, though he was never charged in that case.
Because he was convicted of murder, Nungaray will have to serve at least 15 years in prison before he is eligible for parole.
When reading his statement, Nungaray did apologize for the pain he’d caused.
“I would like to reimburse the family for the burial costs,” he said.