BRADENTON — The man caught driving missing Holmes Beach motel owner Sabine Musil-Buehler’s car on the day she was last seen alive pleaded no contest Monday to a charge of stealing the vehicle.
Robert Corona, 38, pleaded no contest to charges of grand theft auto, resisting arrest and driving with no valid driver’s license, and faces a maximum of six years and 60 days in prison when he is sentenced later this week.
Manatee County Sheriff’s Office deputies Nov. 6 pulled Corona over while he was driving Musil-Buehler’s Pontiac Sunfire in the 2400 block of 11th Street West. He ran from the car and was later found by sheriff’s police dogs hiding under a truck.
Corona told deputies he had found the car with keys in the ignition in the parking lot of Gator Lounge, in the 1800 block of 14th Street West. Deputies later found Musil-Buehler’s blood in the car, but Corona has maintained he had nothing to do with her disappearance.
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“I am taking this plea because I am guilty of the car,” Corona told a judge this morning. “But I have nothing to do with whatever else came with the car.”
Corona’s attorney John Pangallo said his client was referring to the continuing investigation into Musil-Buehler’s disappearance. He said prosecutors refused to offer Corona a plea deal that included anything less than the maximum prison sentence, so his client decided to plead no contest and seek the mercy of the court.
“The offer seems higher than it would otherwise be, but for an ongoing investigation,” said Pangallo. “He has never been named a suspect in the investigation, instead he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Hopefully, the judge will see the state’s motive and be fair with my client.”
In May, an attorney for Musil-Buehler’s boyfriend William Cumber made a similar argument during his client’s probation violation hearing. Cumber, the last person known to have seen Musil-Buehler alive, was sentenced to more than 13 years prison for violating his probation on an arson conviction after he was caught in Marion County driving with a suspended license. Cumber’s attorney Tom Ostrander said prosecutors sought an unfair sentence because of his client’s involvement in the Musil-Buehler case.
Sheriff’s officials have named Cumber a “person of interest” in Musil-Buehler’s disappearance, but he has not been charged in the case. He has maintained his innocence since she disappeared. Musil-Buehler is presumed dead, but her body has not been found, making it difficult to present a criminal case to the state attorney’s office, sheriff’s spokesman Dave Bristow said. Bristow said the sheriff’s office may still present a case to prosecutors in Musil-Buehler’s disappearance, but he declined to say against whom.
“It all comes down to the fact that we don’t have body,” said Bristow. “But that is not to say we would not present the state with something down the road, even if we don’t recover a body.”