Madison County man pleads guilty to murdering girlfriend

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A Madison County man Tuesday admitted murdering a woman he was dating and burying her body on a ranch near Ennis.

As his trial was about to begin Tuesday morning, Stanley Gordon Bernardini pleaded guilty to felony deliberate homicide and tampering with evidence in the death of 37-year-old Michelle Sorrows in 2018. Bernardini and his attorney Jill Gannon-Nagle appeared in Madison County District Court before Judge Luke Berger.

Gannon-Nagle declined to comment later Tuesday. A date for Bernardini’s sentencing will be scheduled at a later date.

Prosecutors will recommend that Bernardini serve 100 years in the Montana State Prison, according to a plea agreement. Prosecutors will not recommend any parole restrictions and will allow Bernardini to argue for a lighter sentence.

Prosectors maintained that witnesses would have testified that Bernardini confided to them about the murder. Charging documents also alleged that blood stains were found throughout Bernardini’s apartment, and authorities later found Sorrows’ body wrapped in a tarp and buried in a spot consistent with where Bernardini had told a witness he buried the body.

In September 2018, Sorrows’ mother reported she hadn’t heard from Sorrows for about a month.

During the search for Sorrows, police concluded her cellphone was last near Bernardini’s apartment on the Braxton/Jumping Horse Ranch in Madison County. Bernardini was the last person who tried calling Sorrows, phone records showed.

About a month later, police found blood stains in Bernardini’s apartment and evidence that someone tried cleaning the walls inside the apartment. They also found an empty bottle of bleach in a trash bag.

Bernardini said he saw Sorrows the day before she went missing but denied any involvement in her disappearance.

Two inmates at the Gallatin County jail subsequently told police that Bernardini admitted murdering Sorrows and burying her body, court documents say.

Bernardini told an inmate that he and Sorrows were fighting after they took meth and drank alcohol, court documents say. Bernardini then repeatedly head-butted Sorrows, the witness told police.

The inmate told police that Bernardini knew Sorrows was not breathing but didn’t resuscitate her because he was mad at her for “tearing up his place.”

A third witness told police that Bernardini asked the witness and another person for advice on how to clean up blood. The witness told police that Bernardini said he had a fight with his girlfriend and “needed help cleaning up her blood,” court documents say.

The witness also told police that he and another person went to Bernardini’s apartment and saw him making a “concoction” in a spray bottle to clean up the blood. The witness said there were wet spots on the floor of Bernardini’s apartment and that it smelled like he was using cleaning products.

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