A California man faces life in prison after pleading guilty to his wife’s 2021 murder.
Jay Barcelon, 32, appeared before a judge at the El Cajon Superior Court on Wednesday — the same day his murder trial was set to begin — and pleaded guilty to charges of second-degree murder, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune. The defendant was changed with fatally stabbing his wife, Rhona Fantone, 30, at their Lemon Grove home, which about 10 miles east of San Diego.
Fantone’s loved ones had previously requested that news outlets refer to the victim by her maiden name, according to ABC San Diego affiliate KGTV-TV.
Lt. Thomas Seiver of the San Diego County Sheriff’s Office said authorities were dispatched to the couple’s Dain Court residence at around 7:30 p.m. on April 16, 2021, following reports of “a domestic incident with a male and female reportedly arguing,” according to the Times of San Diego.
Deputies heard screaming when they arrived at the scene.
After forcing their way into the home, responders found both husband and wife suffering from knife injuries. According to the Union-Tribune, Lt. Seiver said deputies’ “immediate intervention stopped any further assault.”
Fantone succumbed to her injuries after being transported to an area hospital; Barcelon underwent surgery and survived. He was arrested the next day, per the Union-Tribune.
Fantone’s loved ones created a GoFundMe page, describing Fantone as a woman with “so much life left to live.”
“The life she lived, before it was taken away in one, fatal, cowardly act, was driven by her love for her two children, EJ and Katy,” according to family friend Patrick Eria, who created the campaign on behalf of Fantone’s relatives.
Eria was married to one of Fantone’s cousins, Krissy Flauta, according to the ABC affiliate.
“She was always smiling, laughing,” Flauta told KGTV-TV. “You could never tell there [were] any issues.”
According to the Philippines news outlet ABS-CBN, Fantone was the mother of two children from a previous relationship. They were 9 and 11 at the time of their mother’s murder, KGTV-TV reported.
“They were everything to her,” Eria continued on the GoFundMe page. “In fact, her last words were an expression of the depths of her love for her children.”
During a preliminary hearing in February, prosecutors stated that Rhona Fantone’s sister, Rhoda Fantone, had driven the victim to the couple's home to pack a bag, according to the Union-Tribune. Rhona was reportedly planning to spend the night at her sister's, having admitted to her family that the couple was having problems.
Rhoda — who was waiting outside for her sister to return — said Rhona then called her from inside the house.
Rhona claimed Barcelon had locked her in a closet and would not let her leave.
“She was telling me to tell her two kids that she loves them so much, like, repeatedly telling me, ‘Tell my kids I love them so much. Please tell them.’ She kept reiterating those words," Rhoda told ABS-CBN.
Rhoda called 911.
Rhona came to America from Zambales, Philippines — a coastal province about 150 miles northwest of Metro Manila on the South China Sea — as a child. She and Barcelon had been married four years before the murder.
ABS-CBN reported Barcelon was a Filipino-American who'd served in the U.S. Navy. He now faces 16 years to life behind bars.
A formal sentencing hearing has been scheduled for Dec. 5.