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A 68-year-old truck driver from Santa Clara has been sentenced to seven years in state prison for killing a low-level cocaine dealer in Union City 30 years ago. The death of Michael Barbato, a 29-year-old Hayward man, in 1982 had remained unsolved for nearly 30 years until Union City police arrested Donald Wilson in February. The Alameda County District Attorney’s Office initially charged Wilson with murder but it recently agreed to allow him to plead no contest to the lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter.
Wilson was sentenced by an Alameda County Superior Court judge on Oct. 10. According to Union City police Cmdr. Ben Horner, Barbato, described by police 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 weren’t positive about the motive for the murder but believed 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.
He said the case was finally cracked early this year when Officer Chris Leete, who was working light duty due to an injury she had suffered, came across the file and did an initial investigation that resulted in viable leads and witnesses. Horner said Detective Jean Luevano then used new forensic technology to re-examine the evidence in the case and that resulted in a sufficient basis for the District Attorney’s Office to charge Wilson. Wilson was arrested at his residence in the 3500 block of Mauricia Avenue in Santa Clara on Feb. 16, he said.
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