WAILUKU- A California man charged with killing his girlfriend last year at Nakalele Point said he felt pressured and was confused and "in a bit of a trance" when he changed his plea in June.
"I was in a bit of a trance. I have good days and bad days. That day was difficult," Gerald Galaway Jr. testified in 2nd Circuit Court on Tuesday on his motion to withdraw his no-contest plea.
Galaway added that he felt pressured to accept the plea agreement because "it was getting costly for my parents" to pay for his defense attorney. He told the court that his mother is 71 and his father is 68, and they are both retired.
The 39-year-old Santa Cruz man took the stand before Judge Joseph Cardoza, who was hearing a motion from Galaway's attorney, William Sloper, to allow Galaway to withdraw the no-contest plea he made on June 7.
Originally charged with second-degree murder, Galaway pleaded no contest to a reduced charge of manslaughter and kidnapping in the killing of 35-year-old Celestial Dove Cassman, also of Santa Cruz, on Sept. 1, 2011. The prosecution also dismissed a charge of attempted first-degree sexual assault in exchange for the pleas.
Instead of the possibility of life in prison with the chance of parole, Galaway faced a prison term of 20 to 40 years as a result of the plea agreement.
Cardoza did not rule on the motion and continued the hearing to 8:30 a.m. Tuesday. The judge told Sloper and First Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Robert Rivera that he was looking into having a mental exam done on Galaway.
Cardoza noted that Galaway told him that he cannot consistently assist in his own defense.
During the hearing, Cardoza asked Galaway if he was prepared to accept the risks, such as possibly serving life in prison, should Cardoza grant his motion and he be found guilty on the original charges.
"Is that a risk you want to take?" Cardoza said.
"Yes, I'm willing to take that risk," Galaway replied.
Galaway, who told the court he had planned to commit suicide by taking pills while incarcerated, said he has been under psychiatric care and is taking three medications.
"Medications put me in a place where I'm numb to the world," Galaway admitted.
Sloper asked Galaway why he did not tell the court that he took the medicines when asked during his change of plea hearing. Galaway said he didn't say anything because he has taken the medication for a long time.
"It's become second nature to me. It was difficult for me to understand it (the question) in the context of that day," he said.
Rivera said Galaway told the court in June that he was sure he wanted to enter the no-contest pleas.
Also during the hearing, Rivera asked Galaway that if he was concerned about his family's finances, why didn't he ask the judge for a court-appointed lawyer instead of retaining one of his own.
"I was ashamed I wasn't able to afford Mr. Sloper," Galaway replied.
Sloper was hired to represent Galaway shortly after he was hospitalized after the killing. Galaway was injured when he jumped off a 100-foot cliff into the ocean to get away from police at Nakalele Point on the day of Cassman's death.
In Sloper's motion to withdraw the plea, Galaway claims that a mental defense was not fully explored and that the defendant did not understand what factors the judge would consider in determining whether to sentence him to a 20-year prison term or a 40-year prison term.
On Sept. 1, 2011, police went to the area near Mile Marker 38 on Kahekili Highway after a resident driving toward Kahakuloa Village reported that Cassman ran up to her vehicle seeking help.
Galaway ran up after Cassman, grabbed her from behind and wrapped one arm around her neck while telling the resident that "everything is fine" and pulled Cassman away, records show.
The resident reported seeing Galaway lift Cassman and slam her body on the asphalt roadway several times before dragging her by the head into shrubbery on the makai side of the road. The resident reported feeling intimidated before leaving to call 911.
When police arrived, they came across Galaway, who was naked from the waist down. He ran and jumped off a 100-foot cliff into the ocean and spent the night on a rocky outcropping before police and firefighters retrieved him by helicopter the next morning.
Cassman's body was found under a tree. An autopsy showed she was strangled.
Cassman and Galaway had arrived on Maui the day before she was killed and were staying together at a Kaanapali hotel.
In the court gallery Tuesday were family and friends of Cassman.
"We're just seeking justice for Dove; that's our goal here," said longtime friend Robyn Woods Adams outside the courtroom.
She traveled from Northern California for Galaway's original sentencing set for Sept. 11 that was postponed because of the defense's motion to withdraw his plea.
Adams said Cassman had been her maid of honor at her wedding, and the two had been good friends since their freshmen year in high school.
"She was a wonderful person," said Adams, adding that her friend was multitalented.
Cassman was an attorney, but an artist, poet and writer as well, she said.
Adams said Cassman had two cats, Tango and Luna, whom she loved dearly. Adams said she used to kid Cassman about how much she spent on veterinarian bills for the felines.
She also knew Galaway, whom she called "not a good match" for her best friend. She said Galaway and Cassman had dated off and on for five years.
Adams said she'll come back to Maui to see Galaway sentenced.
She wants to make sure her friend is "not forgotten."
* Melissa Tanji can be reached at email@example.com.