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The curiosity of an officer who was looking at old homicide files while he was doing light duty during his recovery from an injury helped Union City police solve a 30-year-old murder case, a police spokesman said today. As a result of an initial new look by Officer Chris Leete and a follow-up investigation by Detective Jean Luevano, 68-year-old Donald Wilson of Santa Clara has been arrested and charged with murder for the death of 29-year-old Michael Barbato, Cmdr. Ben Horner said.
Barbato, described by Horner as a low-level cocaine dealer, was reported missing on Dec. 17, 1982, and his decomposed body was found wrapped in a blanket in an abandoned car in the 32500 block of Almaden Boulevard in Union City on May 9, 1983. Police recovered Barbato’s body after a passerby noticed a strong odor coming from the car, which was parked in an area that didn’t have many houses at the time, according to Horner. Barbato died of blunt trauma to his head, Horner said.
He said authorities aren’t positive about the motive for the murder but they believe that Wilson probably killed Barbato because of a dispute over a drug deal. Authorities don’t know exactly when Barbato died, but because his body was so badly decomposed they think he might have died before he was reported missing in December 1982, Horner said.
Leete did an initial investigation that resulted in viable leads and witnesses, according to Horner. Luevano then used new forensic technology to re-examine the evidence in the case and that resulted in a sufficient basis for the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office to charge Wilson with murdering Barbato, Horner said.
Wilson was arrested at his residence in the 3500 block of Mauricia Avenue in Santa Clara on Feb. 16, he said. Wilson was arraigned in Alameda County Superior Court in Fremont last week and is scheduled to return to court March 27 to finalize his legal representation and possibly enter a plea, according to Horner. Wilson is being held at the Alameda County Jail in Dublin without bail.
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