WAILUKU - A California man charged with killing his girlfriend two years ago near Nakalele Point on the west side was sentenced to 40 years in prison Thursday afternoon in a capacity-filled 2nd Circuit courtroom.
Gerald Galaway Jr., 40, of Santa Cruz, who pleaded no contest to kidnapping and manslaughter, received 20-year prison terms for each count to be served consecutively - the maximum prison time that could be imposed.
The family of victim Celestial Dove Cassman, 35, was in attendance and spoke at the nearly two-hour sentencing in the court of Judge Joseph Cardoza.
Gerald Galaway Jr. appears in 2nd Circuit Court on Thursday with his attorney David Wiltsie. Galaway was sentenced to a 40-year prison term in the death of Celestial Dove Cassman in 2011.
The Maui News / CHRIS SUGIDONO photo
"The defendant kidnapped and killed my daughter," said her mother, Deborah Bevington, who wept and shook uncontrollably. "This has had a huge, horrible impact on family and friends. . . . Nothing will bring my Dovey back. Our lives are shattered."
Cassman's life came to an end Sept. 1, 2011, near Mile Marker 38 on Kahekili Highway. A witness reported seeing Galaway slam Cassman to the ground and then hold her in a chokehold while dragging her into bushes.
"The defendant is a coldblooded killer; he will kill again," Bevington told the court. "Whose daughter will be next? It makes me sick that he was the last person to see Dove alive . . . and that he kept slamming her to the ground.
"I can't imagine seeing my Dove being slammed to the ground."
Police went to the scene in response to a domestic dispute call and saw a half-clothed Galaway run away and jump off a 100-foot cliff into the ocean. Galaway was retrieved from the rocks below by police and firefighters the next day and was hospitalized for more than a week.
Officers found Cassman's body under a tree; an autopsy later found that she had been strangled.
Galaway's family also was in attendance and called the incident an "unbelievable tragedy for both families."
"I love him very much. He's a very good person," said his sister, Katrina Jimerson. "I keep wanting to pinch myself to wake up, but I can't."
Jimerson was joined by parents Gerald and Patricia Galaway, who said their son helped special needs children and adults.
"When he graduated from (college), I was the proudest mother in that stadium," Patricia Galaway said. "I know he did not intend to hurt Celestial. He loved her very much."
Defense attorney David Wiltsie called Galaway's actions "out of character" and asked for the 20-year prison terms to run concurrently.
"(Galaway) is facing possibly 40 years in jail - that is effectively a life sentence," Wiltsie said. "I do feel that Gerald has the skills that he can bring to bear and be a productive person in society."
First Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Robert Rivera refuted Galaway's defense and recited a love letter that he wrote to Cassman less than two months before her death.
"He didn't love her. He controlled her," he said.
Rivera pulled out another note that Galaway had written to the court that begins, "All my life I've obeyed the law." Rivera said Galaway is a known drug addict and dealer and was abusive toward his ex-wife.
"There is very little the defendant can say or write that we can believe," he said.
Rivera noted that when he first got the case he could not figure out why Galaway was driven to murder until he read a news article that listed two reasons men are abusive - "he chose to" and "he can."
"Our human nature likes to make sense of things, but there is no motive," he said. "These are the only two reasons we need to know."
Rivera asked Cardoza for the maximum sentence of 40 years and highlighted probation officer assessments on Galaway that stated he was likely to commit another crime due to the nature of the crime and his substance abuse history.
"This defendant has killed and will kill again," Rivera said.
More than two dozen friends and family members of Cassman were in the courtroom, including Crystal Cassman-Peters, one of the victim's five sisters. Cassman-Peters said her sister has already missed "countless" family gatherings since her death.
"One of our sisters just had a baby and another sister was married. . . . I just know how much she would've enjoyed these," she said. "It's just not right at a wedding to have to take a moment of silence for your missing sister."
Cassman was a deputy city attorney for Santa Cruz and two other coastal California towns. She was born in Nanakuli on Oahu, and her father, Ken Cassman, said she would always have a flower in her hair.
"Dove was my hero," he said.
Following the testimony, Galaway stood up and addressed the Cassman family.
"I hope in time you can find it in your hearts to forgive me," he told them.
"I hope you truly see I am a good man who made a horrible mistake," he said. "I humbly ask for a second chance."
While Cardoza acknowledged Galaway's work with people with special needs and his good conduct in Maui Community Correctional Center, the judge said he could not order concurrent 20-year terms due to the seriousness of the crime. Cardoza also pointed to state kidnapping laws, which distinguish a Class A felony for keeping victims and a Class B for releasing them unharmed.
"There was no release, instead the conduct here culminated in the death of an individual," he said. "The fact pattern here is such that the defendant could have voluntarily released the victim alive.
"Death did not have to occur."
In addition to the prison term, Cardoza ordered Galaway to pay $2,649 in restitution.
Galaway was originally indicted on charges of second-degree murder, first-degree sexual assault and kidnapping. The defendant ended up pleading to the lesser charge of manslaughter and kidnapping with the prosecution dismissing the sex assault charge in a plea agreement in June 2012.
Three months later, though, Galaway sought to withdraw his no-contest pleas. At a hearing, he said he felt pressured to accept the plea agreement because it was getting costly for his parents to pay for his defense attorney. During that hearing, Cardoza also ordered exams for Galaway to determine his mental fitness when he changed his pleas. A new attorney later was appointed for Galaway.
The three mental exams by psychologists or psychiatrists differed in their assessment of Galaway. However, at an Aug. 6 hearing, Galaway agreed to drop his motion to withdraw his plea and declared himself mentally fit to proceed to sentencing.
Following Thursday's sentencing, the Cassman family embraced outside the courtroom.
"On behalf of Dove's five sisters and the rest of our family, we're relieved that justice was served today and that the judge ruled for the maximum penalty under law," Cassman-Peters said. "We understand this is the first step in the process, and we will return to Maui in several months for the parole board hearing to ensure that he will be locked away without the possibility of parole as long as possible. It is clear that he is dangerous, and he cannot be given the freedom to be violent again.
"We would very much like to thank Maui County for their hard work, warmth and kindness that they extended to our family and Dove's extended friends throughout this painful process."
* Chris Sugidono can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.