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Bay Area man gets 25 years to life for 2018 fatal shooting of girlfriend

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At the end of a six-year-old case, a 30-year-old Vacaville man found guilty in 2023 of shooting and killilng his on-again, off-again girlfriend in a Vacaville garage told the court, his statement ringing with familiarity at other sentencings for murder, “There’s nothing I can say that will bring Samantha back.”

Shackled at the waist and legs, Gage Harold Pontarelli, seated at the defense table in Department 11 of Solano County Superior Court in Fairfield, added, “I wish I could go back in time and change my actions.”

Judge William J. Pendergast, first noting changes in state sentencing laws, then said, “There’s no sentence I can give that assuages the pain” of parents and relatives who still grieve the death of Samantha Jack, 22, of Elk Grove, who died in the early morning hours of July 22.

Pontarelli then handed down the sentence: 25 years to life and stayed an additional sentence of 25 years to life, saying, “I’m not excusing the use of a gun.”

Looking directly at Pontarelli and defense attorney Matthew Siroka, the judge noted that the law requires that, one day, Pontarelli will be granted a parole hearing and if “he takes responsibility for his crime, he can be paroled. But he can also remain in prison for the rest of his life.”

Pontarelli received 2,146 days credit — or nearly six years — for time served in the Stanton Correctional Facility in Fairfield and returns for a restitution hearing in the coming days in the Justice Center in Fairfield.

Besides a motion for a new trial, which Pendergast denied after an hourlong arguments and counterarguments from Siroka and Deputy District Attorney Bill Ainsworth, the sentencing hearing included a dozen victim-impact statements.

Tearing up and trying to catch his breath as he sat next to Ainsworth, Brent Jack, Samantha’s father, began his comments by acknowledging the previous 11 statements, saying they “brought back memories of my daughter.”

He said testimony during the three-week trial that begin in December 2022 “portrayed her as some sort of psychotic devil.”

Jack also acknowledged his own deep-seated feelings that have welled up inside of him for the past six years, adding that he realized “how hopelessly powerless I am — I can’t stop the pain” he and his family continue to experience.

He questioned some of Siroka’s assertions about his daughter, statements made during several hearing days for a new trial. Jack also said he and his family were “not looking for vegeance,” but added, “We’re all desperate to know what really happened that night.”

Recalling some of the audio recordings heard during the trial, Jack said his daughter’s last words were “No! No!”

“I have an image of what my daughter looked like in that moment,” he said.

Trial testimony showed that Pontarelli did not administer first aid and left the garage after the shooting but he did call Vacaville police dispatchers.

Pontarelli, he said, “left her to die alone, like a dog on the side of a road. It’s difficult to forgive someone who doesn’t seem to want to be forgiven.”

Jack wondered why Pontarelli ended up shooting his daughter, given his parents’ modeling good, forthright behavior of “hard work, success.”

“I don’t want to see him sitting here,” he said of Pontarelli, who, clad in a striped jail jumpsuit, sat expressionless throughout most of the hearing.

The trial, Jack added, took a toll, but cited a metaphor, saying, “Dragons can be slayed” and hoped a justified sentence would “restore trust in the justice system.”

“You’re the only one who can wield the sword of justice,” he said, looking directly at Pendergast.

Samantha Jack’s mother Yvonne Zerbe delivered the first victim-impact statement and among her first memories was of a prayerful and “creative” daughter.

When she received the news of the fatal shooting, she said, tearing up and choking back her words, “I wanted to die.”

She called the trial “a horror show,” and assailed Pontarell family.

“There was no excuse for my daughter’s murder,” said Zerbe.

At trial, Senior Deputy District Attorney Julie Underwood, the prosecutor at the time, said Samantha Jack’s killing was “absolutely not an accident,” as Jessica Agnich, the defense attorney at the time, asserted.

Underwood told jurors if jurors listen again to the audio portion of a neighbor’s security camera footage — a key piece of evidence in the trial — they would agree on four things: There was an argument and Pontarelli hit her; he “held a gun on her”; heard a semi-automatic handgun “being racked,” meaning a bullet had entered the firing chamber with a ratcheting sound; and that “he shot and killed her.”

She noted Pontarelli did not “shed a single tear” when he viewed the autopsy photos or other graphic evidence of the young woman he “allegedly loved.”

Underwood insisted the case “was about murder,” not the lesser included offenses of voluntary or involuntary manslaughter, a reference to statements Pendergast made during his initial jury instructions as the trial wound down.

Court records showed that Vacaville police investigators believe Pontarelli shot and killed Jack in the pre-dawn hours of July 22.

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