Updated October 23, 2020 - 6:26 pm
Even though he pleaded guilty in May to the fatal 2018 attack on his mother, a Pahrump man told a judge Friday that “she is the only one that has my heart” before he was sentenced to life in prison.
“I do wholeheartedly regret what I did,” Dakota Saldivar, who was 17 at the time of the crime, said over teleconference, sitting in a striped jumpsuit at the Pahrump jail. “I still love my mother.”
The brutal attack on Dawn Liebig was carried out with his adopted brother, Michael Wilson, who was also 17. Wilson pleaded guilty and received the same sentence last month.
Both men will be eligible for parole after serving 18 years.
“Quite frankly, this was a hideous crime,” Nye County District Judge Kimberly Wanker said Friday. “(Liebig) in her own way loved her kids to the point that she slept on the couch and gave these two boys — the two that end up murdering her — the master bedroom.”
On July 19, 2018, the brothers walked into their living room at 6381 Wedgewood St. in Pahrump, waiting for their 46-year-old mother to fall asleep, according to their arrest reports.
They had planned to stab her in the jugular vein to kill her faster. Instead, their mother fought back for nearly a half hour, the reports say.
“No, no, stop,” Liebig said, according to authorities.
She also called out to her sons for help, according to the reports, not realizing that they were the ones attacking her.
Body camera footage
Wilson told detectives he stabbed his mother once in the neck, where Saldivar stabbed her multiple times, he said.
Saldivar said he struck her in the head with a hammer about 20 times during the attack. The teens then put her body in her 2001 Ford Explorer, drove it to the mountains and buried it 2 feet underground.
Wilson first confessed to killing their mom, according to police body camera footage from their arrest, presented at their preliminary hearing.
“We got fed up with her because it was just nonstop yelling, screaming, you know,” Saldivar told police in the footage.
Footage shows he also told police: “The last thing she said, I think, was, ‘Is this real?’”
Saldivar is the youngest of Liebig’s four biological sons, Saldivar’s defense attorney, Brent Percival, said at the sentencing Friday. Liebig adopted Wilson, who lived with them for about five years.
The introduction of Liebig’s Facebook profile reads: “im a mom that hopes she did okay. i want my boys to become the men i hoped for. i live for them.”
But Percival told the judge on Friday that “Dakota’s life is kind of an illustration of what happens when a family unit breaks down.”
He said Saldivar largely grew up without a male role model and asked the judge for the minimum sentence of 14 years to life in prison.
Percival noted Liebig was diagnosed with cancer when Saldivar was just 12 or 13 and was unable to work due to the illness. She only received a small Social Security stipend, which he said she primarily used to purchase opiates.
“Most of the boys were relegated to begging for groceries from the neighbors, catching groceries from their grandmother … or actually being sent and encouraged to go to the Family Dollar and steal groceries so that they had something to eat.”
Percival said Saldivar’s mother was “miserable from her cancer” and became physically and verbally abusive. He said police had been called for domestic violence and child abuse in the home, but that “nothing was ever done.”
To Saldivar, Percival said, “It seemed like a rational decision to end it — to end his mother’s suffering and his own suffering, due to her suffering.”
But Nye County Deputy District Attorney Nicholas Pitaro dismissed Percival’s argument.
“For every one person who has that kind of upbringing and murders their mother, I can show you a dozen who had that same upbringing and rise above and become productive members of society,” he said.
Wanker said the teens could have gone to school or work, or emancipated themselves, but instead conspired to murder their mother. One of Liebig’s older sons was so devastated by the crime that he took his own life, she added.