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Bay Area man receives 25 years to life in prison for fatally shooting his girlfriend in 2018

At the end of a six-year-old case, a 30-year-old Vacaville man who was found guilty in 2023 of shooting his on-again, off-again girlfriend in a Vacaville garage told the court in a statement that sounded familiar from other murder cases: “There is nothing I can say that will bring Samantha back.”

Gage Harold Pontarelli, shackled at the waist and legs and sitting 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 ways.”

Judge William J. Pendergast initially cited changes in the state's criminal code, but then said, “I cannot issue a sentence that will ease the pain” of parents and relatives still mourning the death of Samantha Jack, 22, of Elk Grove, who died in the early morning hours of July 22.

Pontarelli then announced the verdict: 25 years to life imprisonment and suspended an additional sentence of 25 years to life imprisonment, saying: “I do not excuse the use of a weapon.”

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

Pontarelli was given 2,146 days – or nearly six years – credit for time served at Stanton Correctional Facility in Fairfield, and he will return to the Justice Center in Fairfield in the next few days for a restitution hearing.

In addition to a motion for a retrial, which Pendergast denied after an hour of pleadings and rebuttals from Siroka and Assistant District Attorney Bill Ainsworth, the sentencing hearing included a dozen victim impact statements.

With tears in his eyes and gasping for breath as he sat next to Ainsworth, Brent Jack, Samantha's father, began his remarks by acknowledging the previous 11 statements, saying they “brought back memories of my daughter.”

He said testimony during the three-week trial, which begins in December 2022, “portrayed her as some kind of psychotic devil.”

Jack also acknowledged his own deep-seated emotions that have been bubbling up inside him over the past six years, adding that he has realised “how hopelessly powerless I am – I can't stop the pain” that he and his family still feel.

He questioned some of Siroka's statements about his daughter made during several days of hearings for a new trial. Jack also said he and his family are “not out for revenge,” but added, “We all desperately want to know what really happened that night.”

Jack recalled some of the audio recordings heard during the trial and said his daughter's last words were “No! No!”

“I have a picture of what my daughter looked like at that moment,” he said.

Witnesses' statements indicated that after the shooting, Pontarelli did not administer first aid and left the garage, but he did call the Vacaville Police Department dispatch center.

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

Jack wondered why Pontarelli ended up shooting his daughter when his parents were a good, honest role model based on “hard work and success.”

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

The trial, Jack added, had taken its toll, but cited a metaphor: “Dragons can be slain” and hoped that a just verdict would “restore faith in the legal system.”

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

Samantha Jack's mother Yvonne Zerbe gave the first victim impact statement and her first memories were of a religious and “creative” daughter.

When she received the news of the fatal shooting, she said through tears and in a choked voice, “I wanted to die.”

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

“There was no excuse for the murder of my daughter,” Zerbe said.

During the trial, then-prosecutor and Assistant District Attorney Julie Underwood said that Samantha Jack's killing was “absolutely not an accident,” as then-defense attorney Jessica Agnich asserted.

Underwood told jurors that if they listened back to audio from a neighbor's security camera – a key piece of evidence in the trial – they would agree on four things: There was an argument and Pontarelli hit her; he “pointed a gun at her”; he heard a semi-automatic pistol “pull through,” meaning a bullet entered the chamber with a rattling sound; and that “he shot and killed her.”

She noted that Pontarelli “did not shed a single tear” as he looked at the autopsy photos or other visual evidence of the young woman he “supposedly loved.”

Underwood insisted that the case was “about murder” and not the lesser crimes of manslaughter or killing, citing statements Pendergast made during his initial instructions to the jury toward the end of the trial.

Court records show that Vacaville police investigators believe Pontarelli shot Jack in the early morning hours of July 22.