An ex-Navy man was sentenced Thursday to three consecutive life terms in prison for trying, over several months, to poison his wife to death.
Race Remington Uto, 28, pleaded guilty last year to three counts of attempted premeditated murder by dosing his wife, Brigida, with thallium, an extremely toxic poison, at the Dulzura home they shared with their toddler son.
"How selfish, how cruel, because you were having an affair and you wanted to get rid of your wife," El Cajon Superior Court Judge Robert Amador said to Uto.
Amador called the poisoning "inhumane" and noted that murder by poison is punishable by the death penalty.
Investigators with the FBI and Sheriff's Department found a downloaded copy of "The Poisoner's Handbook" on Uto's phone, a prosecutor said.
Uto sat still and upright, his face impassive, as he listened to the judge. He also heard his now-former wife read an emotional account of the suffering she endured in the fall of 2017 to the spring of 2018, when doctors finally diagnosed her mysterious illness.
"When the doctors told me I had thallium in my system, I was in shock and disbelief," said Brigida McInvale, who now uses her maiden name.
Thallium is a highly toxic metal once widely used in rat poisons and insecticides, but that use has been banned in the United States for many years. It is nearly undetectable after being ingested.
"How did you do this to the mother of your child?" McInvale continued. "The only way out of a marriage is to kill your wife slowly? I cared for you; I loved you, and you silently watched me suffer for months."
She described the progression of her illness, from feeling dizzy and being unable to eat to severe hair loss and becoming too weak to stand. At one point last spring, doctors gave her two weeks to live, she said.
"It felt like a nightmare that wouldn't stop," McInvale said.
She said she still suffers from stiff, weak legs, dizziness and emotional trauma.
Uto was still in the Navy, as a third-class electrician's mate assigned to Naval Base Point Loma, when he began poisoning his wife.
Prosecutors alleged Uto used a small dose of thallium first, in August 2017, and -- when that didn't work -- tried a little larger dose in December that year.
Then, in January of 2018, he used a dose five times larger than before, Deputy District Attorney Paul Reizen said in court.
Uto was arrested last March. He pleaded guilty in December.
The prosecutor told the judge that Uto told investigators early on that he was so concerned about his dying wife's mysterious ailment, saying, "If I could trade places with her, I would."
"And all that time, he had the answer," Reizen said.
Reizen said "The Poisoner's Handbook" describes thallium as one of the worst poisons, killing slowly, giving the poisoner control over how quickly the victim dies.
Defense attorney Dan Cohen told the judge that Uto accepts responsibility for his actions and pleaded guilty to save McInvale and her family from further trauma.
Cohen said Uto suffered a back injury at the Naval Academy in Annapolis and has an electronic implant to aid pain control.
"Mr. Uto believes the pain clouded his judgment," Cohen said.
McInvale said her son, now 3, is in therapy to get over the fear of losing his mother. She said the boy was also affected by having been separated from his mother for months while she was in quarantine in the hospital.
McInvale said she and Uto had been married for three years and in a relationship for 10 years. She said it took her a long time to accept investigators' suspicions that her husband was trying to kill her.
"I wanted to believe he would never hurt me," she told the judge.
Reizen read statements from the victim's mother and father, urging the judge to impose the maximum sentence on Uto. Their younger daughter read her own statement, describing the pain of seeing her sister come close to dying in the hospital.
This article is written by Pauline Repard from The San Diego Union-Tribune and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.