Prosecution Rests Its Case: Recap of Santa Barbara Triple-Murder Trial So Far

Prosecutors Wrap Up Case Against John Dungan, Defense Expected to Finish Friday, July 22

PROSECUTION RESTS: From left, Deputy District Attorney Megan Chanda, CHP Investigator Jeffrey Clements, and Deputy District Attorney Stephen Wagner on Friday, July 15. | Credit: Rodrigo Hernandez

Five weeks into the trial of 31-year-old John Dungan — a Santa Barbara resident charged with the triple-murder of a Solvang woman and her two children in a high-speed collision on Highway 154 in October 2019 — the prosecution has rested, after building a strong case that included emotional testimony from witnesses and investigators reliving the aftermath of the deadly crash.

Deputy District Attorneys Megan Chanda and Stephen Wagner called a variety of witnesses, from motorists at the scene that day to forensic investigators to those who personally knew Dungan, and presented to the jury a complete picture of the events leading up to and following the incident. The Independent covered every step of the way, and below are a few highlights from the trial so far.

Ticking Time Bomb

During the trial’s opening arguments on June 13, Chanda described Dungan as a ticking time bomb ready to explode. “Tick, tick, tick, BOOM!” Chanda shouted, slamming the courtroom podium with her fist. Earlier in 2019, Dungan had been placed on a 72-hour involuntary hold after police found 16 firearms, body armor, and more than 20,000 rounds of ammunition at his residence when conducting a welfare check after Dungan sent several texts that “appeared to be suicidal/homicidal in nature.” A month later, he was charged with stalking an ex-girlfriend and carrying a concealed weapon with a large-capacity magazine.

Crash or Crime?

As the prosecution called witnesses who were near Cold Springs Canyon Bridge at the time of the accident, the jury learned that Dungan’s 2013 Chevy Camaro went “through” the much-smaller Chevy Volt driven by the victim, Rebecca Vanessa Goss Bley, with her two children, 2-year-old Lucienne Bley Gleason and 4-month-old Desmond Bley Gleason. According to investigators, Dungan’s gas pedal was in the “fully open position” when he collided head-on with Bley’s vehicle at an estimated 119 mph. The prosecution was determined to prove that the collision was intentional, while the defense argued that there was no proof Dungan did not make corrective actions before the crash.

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Tearful Testimony

Several of the witnesses broke into tears while on the stand, describing the fiery aftermath of the collision and the emotionally charged investigation that followed. Witnesses described Bley’s body being launched from her vehicle and recounted attempts to rescue the children trapped inside. Investigators later said all three victims died on impact. California Highway Patrol Sergeant Matthew Marien broke down describing the emotional gravity of the case, and investigators revealed graphic details of the bodies, which were described by detective Michael Carlson as “burned beyond recognition.”

Who Is John Dungan?

Prosecutors called former friends and relatives of Dungan, painting a clouded picture of his state of mind leading up to the crash. Friends described emotional text messages as normal for Dungan, and his mother said he would “always say things that were up for interpretation” and that he was “always thinking 10 moves ahead, calculating outcomes normal people aren’t paying attention to.” On the day of the incident, Dungan’s mother found a note that she felt was cause for concern. “I am too sensitive for this reality and I am done allowing an unjust justice system to push me around and bully me. I love you all, goodbye — John Dungan.” It was later found that Dungan had removed his court-mandated GPS anklet shortly before the accident near East Camino Cielo.

Defense Strategy

Now that the prosecution has rested, Dungan’s defense team — led by attorney Jeremy Lessem — will have the opportunity to present its case. Lessem spent much of the cross-examination sowing doubt in the assertion that the crash was intentional and grilling witnesses over inconsistencies in their statements. He picked holes in the investigators’ video recreations, questioning their accuracy and pointing out discrepancies in their research. The defense is expected to lay out its case on Friday, July 22. 

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