Santa Barbara man acquitted on first-degree murder charges
After a nearly two-month long courtroom trial, a Santa Barbara County Superior Court jury found John Dungan, 30, of Santa Barbara guilty on three counts of second-degree murder on Tuesday in the deaths of 34-year-old Rebecca Vanessa Bley and her children, 2-year-old Lucienne Bley Gleason and 4-month-old Desmond Bley Gleason.
Jurors returned not guilty verdicts on charges of first-degree murder.
Mr. Dungan, who was 28 when he committed the crime in 2019, was accused of intentionally ramming his Chevrolet Camaro head-on into the victims’ vehicle while traveling in excess of 100 mph on the wrong side of State Route 154. Coroners testified that Ms. Bley and her children died of blunt force injuries as a result of the crash. Prosecutors alleged during the trial that Mr. Dungan was both suicidal and homicidal at the time of the incident.
After being escorted into the courtroom in ankle and wrist restraints by members of the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office, Mr. Dungan expressed no sign of emotion throughout the day’s proceedings. He was later placed back into his restraints, and was escorted out of the courtroom bearing the same expressionless demeanor as when entering and receiving the verdict.
Mr. Dungan is to be scheduled by Judge Thomas Adams on Sept. 28. Mr. Dungan faces 45 years to life in prison.
The records of the trial’s jury were sealed by order of Judge Adams, who unintentionally led to a heightened sense of drama after accidentally neglecting to read the entirety of the jury’s verdict after pages were found to be stuck together. “I’m very sorry. Wow,” he was heard saying into the microphone after the prosecution pointed out the mistake. The snafu caused Judge Adams to meet with counselors from both sides outside of the courtroom accompanied by the court recorder before returning to re-read the verdict in its entirety.
“This was a gut-wrenching set of operative facts and events. The jury was exposed to raw and emotional testimony combined with nuanced expert testimony related to the dynamics of the collision,” Deputy District Attorney Stephen Wagner said in a statement to the News-Press. “They were an extremely dedicated group of jurors, and I applaud their sustained attention throughout.
“I hope and pray that the Gleason and Bley families somehow find peace and some form of closure,” Mr. Wagner said. “The prosecution’s team chemistry and the detailed and relentless work of CHP Investigators Jeffrey Clements and Matthew Marien all led to this verdict.”
District Attorney Joyce Dudley praised Mr. Wagner and others for their work on the case.
“These verdicts and this level of justice for the victims would not have been possible without the hard work of California Highway Patrol Sgt. Matthew Marien and investigator Jeffrey Clements, among many other dedicated law enforcement officers,” Ms. Dudley said in a statement. “In addition, Supervising Victim Advocate Rita McGaw provided much needed support for the surviving family members throughout the process.
“Finally, prosecutors Stephen Wagner and Megan Chanda were exemplary in their efforts to seek justice for these victims, their loved ones and our community at large.”