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Man gets life in prison without parole for 2018 fatal stabbing at Midway District adult bookstore

San Diego police investigate the fatal stabbing of Diane Spagnuolo in October 2018 at the X-Spot Adult Store on Midway Drive.
(File / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Shaun Douglas Ward, 42, pleaded guilty in July to murder in the death of Diane Spagnuolo.

A man who fatally stabbed a clerk in an adult bookstore in the Midway District nearly three years ago was sentenced Aug. 6 to life in prison without possibility of parole.

Shaun Douglas Ward, 42, pleaded guilty in July to first-degree murder in the Oct. 29, 2018, death of Diane Spagnuolo, 65, of El Cajon.

Spagnuolo was found dead inside the X-Spot Adult Store on Midway Drive. She had been stabbed multiple times.

A surveillance camera in the shop captured images of Ward before the killing, which was reported at about 1:45 p.m. that day, police said.

Ward was arrested that night at a residence in San Diego.

Ward’s guilty plea in San Diego County Superior Court allowed him to avoid the possibility of the death penalty if he had been convicted at trial. He agreed to a sentence of life in prison without parole at the time he admitted to the charges.

In addition to the murder charge, prosecutors filed special-circumstance allegations of murder committed during a robbery and murder by torture, both of which made him eligible for capital punishment. There is a statewide moratorium on executions in California for as long as Gov. Gavin Newsom is in office, but California law still allows prosecutors to pursue the death penalty in certain cases.

The county district attorney’s office announced in June 2019 that it would seek Ward’s execution if he were convicted.

At the sentencing hearing, Superior Court Judge Joan Weber described what she had seen in the surveillance footage as “one of the most horrific murder scenes I have ever witnessed as a judge.”

The judge heard from several of Spagnuolo’s family members, some of whom appeared at the hearing in person, others who spoke remotely via Zoom and others whose statements were read in court by Deputy District Attorney Melissa Vasel, the prosecutor in the case.

Spagnuolo’s daughter, Alexis Wylie, said she struggled to sum up in just a few statements what her mother meant to her.

“Words of empty comfort mean nothing. She is gone from our lives forever and that won’t change,” Wylie said. “The face that my whole life was built around, I will never see again. The voice that would comfort with words till I sleep, will never speak.

“It is an empty space now and forever. And to the one who robbed us, you will never do so again.”

Spagnuolo’s loved ones described her as a caring person and spoke of her generosity of spirit.

Wylie’s father, Alexander Wylie, said a woman the family believed was homeless showed up at Spagnuolo’s funeral. They learned that she was paying tribute to Spagnuolo, who would let her into the store on some nights to get out of the cold.

Spagnuolo’s brother, Saverio Spagnolie, said she was “the most amazing individual I have ever known.” He said it was “a blessing” to have her as a sister and that it pained him that he, his niece and his other siblings lost her “for absolutely nothing.”

In addition to working at X-Spot for 24 years, Spagnuolo worked at the Salvation Army and as a seasonal tax preparer and a textiles processor, family members said.

— San Diego Union-Tribune reporter Sofía Mejías Pascoe contributed to this report.


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