WAILUKU - Even though a California man charged with killing his girlfriend appeared to be coherent and responsive in court, 2nd Circuit Judge Joseph Cardoza said Tuesday that the defendant's mental fitness should be determined after he is examined by experts.
The judge ordered that Gerald Galaway Jr., 39, of Santa Cruz be evaluated by three court-appointed psychiatrists or psychologists before a Dec. 4 court date to receive the reports.
Until issues about his mental fitness are resolved, Galaway's court proceedings are on hold, including a decision on whether to allow him to withdraw his no-contest pleas to a reduced charge of manslaughter and kidnapping in the Sept. 1, 2011, killing of Celestial Dove Cassman.
The 35-year-old Santa Cruz attorney had arrived on Maui with Galaway the day before her body was found under a tree off Kahekili Highway near Nakalele Point. An autopsy showed she was strangled to death.
When police officers arrived at the remote area near Mile Marker 38, they found Galaway naked from the waist down. He ran and jumped off a 100-foot cliff into the ocean, spending the night on a rocky outcropping before police and firefighters retrieved him by helicopter the next morning.
In court Tuesday, defense attorney William Sloper said proceeding with the mental examination was "probably the best step" after Galaway testified last week that he is unable to assist in his defense.
He also testified that he felt pressured and was confused and "in a bit of a trance" when he entered the no-contest pleas June 7. Instead of a sentence of life in prison if convicted as charged of second-degree murder, Galaway faced up to 40 years in prison as part of a plea agreement that also dismissed an attempted first-degree sexual assault charge.
First Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Robert Rivera asked the judge to deny Galaway's request to withdraw the no-contest pleas. When he entered the pleas, Galaway acknowledged that he was doing so "knowingly, voluntarily and intelligently," Rivera said.
"The state does not buy his claim that his mind was not clear back in June," Rivera said. "I think he's demonstrated, and the record reflects this, that his mind is clear. He's made it clear that the motive behind his filing this motion to withdraw his plea is because he now does not want to be subject to a 40-year prison term."
Cardoza noted that Galaway testified last week that he didn't fully understand the court proceedings and wasn't fully mentally fit to proceed when he changed his pleas.
Galaway also reported that his condition has deteriorated since he changed his pleas "and he cannot consistently assist in his own defense," Cardoza said.
"All this despite the fact that at the time the defendant changed his pleas and during his testimony during the hearing on this motion, based on the defendant's statements and his nonverbal communication and conduct, the defendant was quite coherent, responsive and appeared fully oriented," Cardoza said. "That was the case at the time that he changed his plea and at the time he testified."
Because of the serious charges, Cardoza said "the court proceeded cautiously" during Galaway's change-of-plea hearing, which lasted nearly 40 minutes.
Because Galaway is now saying he isn't mentally fit to proceed, Cardoza said it was appropriate to have input from three psychologists or psychiatrists who conduct examinations of Galaway. The judge said the examinations should focus on whether Galaway is now mentally fit to proceed and whether he was mentally fit when he changed his pleas.
* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at lfujimoto@maui news.com.