Four years ago this month, Yulia Pogrebenko arrived in the United States from Russia with a suitcase and a large amount of cash, authorities say. She came here to help her 25-year-old son, who lived in Catonsville and needed money.
She was scheduled to fly back to Russia the following week, but she never showed up for the flight.
Instead, Baltimore County prosecutors say, the 54-year-old Pogrebenko's dismembered remains were found months later — her torso was found floating in the Chesapeake Bay that June by a man sailing near the Bay Bridge, and her skull was discovered in July by someone on the shores of Kent County.
On Wednesday in Baltimore County Circuit Court, her son, Dmitry Pronin, now 29, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in her killing, as part of a plea agreement with prosecutors.
"I consulted with my attorneys, and I can see it is a wiser decision than going to trial," Pronin told Judge Judith Ensor.
Pronin was charged initially with first-degree murder, for which he could have be sentenced to life in prison. He now faces up to 30 years in prison when he is sentenced May 12.
Though police publicly identified Pronin as a suspect in his mother's death in November 2011, he was not charged until 2013. The case required county police to work with Russian authorities, who assigned an investigator to help gather evidence and find records, county police spokesman Cpl. John Wachtersaid.
Pogrebenko arrived at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York on Feb. 23, 2011, according to a statement of facts read in court Wednesday by Deputy State's Attorney John Cox.
At the time, Pronin was facing legal troubles in Baltimore County, according to court records and prosecutors. He had been charged with second- and third-degree sex offenses, assault and making threats.
At the airport, Pogrebenko met with a friend and rented a car to drive to Catonsville, Cox said. Later that night, she called the friend to say she was an hour from her son's apartment on Maiden Choice Lane. Her phone was used again at 3:58 a.m., but after that, no one heard from her, Cox said.
Two days after his mother's arrival, Pronin used her credit card at a Wachovia Bank on Maiden Choice Lane, prosecutors say. He also tried to use two of her other bank cards, but didn't know her personal identification number. In March, he bought $660 in money orders, paid his lawyer $2,000 in cash and deposited $1,900 into his account.
On March 14, FBI agents arrested Pronin, according to Cox. The FBI previously announced Pronin was arrested for robbing a bank in Wilmington, Del. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison in 2011.
Police, meanwhile, were conducting a missing-person investigation. Pronin told authorities he never saw his mother after she arrived in the United States.
After her remains were found that summer in the Chesepeake Bay, medical examiners concluded from an examination of her skull that she had died from blunt force trauma, Cox said.
Prosecutors charged Pronin with murder in 2013 after receiving assistance with the investigation from Russian authorities.
Cox said after the hearing that while incarcerated, Pronin wrote a book about a boy in Russia whose mother was named Yulia. Pronin's defense team had sought to exclude the writings from evidence if the case went to trial.
"It seemed to be expressing unhappiness with the way he was raised," Cox said.
After Pronin is sentenced in Baltimore County, he will be returned to federal custody to serve the remainder of the bank robbery sentence, according to Cox, after which he will begin serving his sentence for murder.