Judge: No Courtroom Circus Allowed

Darren Galas is led into the courtroom for last Tuesday’s bail hearing. Amanda C. Gregg photo

Michael Green, attorney for accused murderer Darren Galas, draws plenty of laughs for his theatrical style in last week’s bail hearing

Editor’s note: MidWeek Kaua’i’s Amanda C. Gregg was the only journalist in the courtroom for the bail-reduction hearing of accused murderer Darren Galas last Tuesday. This is her account of the proceedings.

Also on this page, a letter from Lawrence Mendonca, father of the slain Sandra Galas, to Judge Kathleen Watanabe. The letter is unsealed and is thus part of the public record, and was entered as “Exhibit 1” at the hearing. It is important to note Mr. Mendonca alleges things that have yet to be proven in court.

It was clear that deputy prosecutor John Murphy had just been handed the file in the high-profile Darren Galas case the morning of his bail reduction hearing Nov. 13.

Galas is facing second-degree murder charges for allegedly murdering his estranged wife Sandra, whom he was divorcing at the time, and who was pregnant. She was found dead in her car in ‘Ele’ele in 2006.

Neither soon-to-be replaced Prosecutor Shaylene Iseri-Carvalho nor her first deputy Jake Delaplane were in court for the bail reduction hearing of Darren Galas, despite Iseri-Carvalho telling me personally she would continue to handle the case at the Oct. 31 at the plea hearing.

Murphy was obviously, and painfully, new to the case, and when asked by Judge Kathleen Watanabe if he would be the prosecutor to handle the case moving forward, he said he didn’t know.

It wasn’t a good start to the day, as the case of Sandra “Sandy G” Galas is one of the highest profile cases to be tried in a Kaua’i courtroom. It’s even garnering national media attention – Dateline producer Vince Sturla flew here Oct. 31 for the plea hearing. Galas is being represented by Oahu attorney Michael Green, known for handling high-profile cases (see Ron Mizutani’s column on Colt Brennan in this issue for another Green reference). The county certainly needed to be prepared.

I did ask Prosecutor-elect Justin Kollar if he will personally take on the case once he’s sworn in. He told me it was too premature to say, but did say he “understands the importance of the case” and that he will “personally ensure every available resource will be put into securing a conviction.”

One would hope that in upcoming court dates it will be a fair fight.

Green certainly offered plenty of distraction at the bail hearing – he is entertaining to a theatrical degree – apart from the gruesomeness of the case (a woman-with-child murdered in cold blood). I actually heard people in the audience laughing.

Particularly “interesting,” to use Green’s word of the day, was his cross-examination of KPD Detective Bryson Ponce on the stand. Ponce was in court in opposition to the reduction of bail, and mentioned that Galas had unregistered firearms in his possession.

Green laid into Ponce – at one point Murphy offered a continued objection to Green’s “tone,” saying he was “morally beating the witness.” But the exchange offered a peek into the dynamics of what it will take to win this case. Not only will it involve preparation from the prosecutor, but a less-easily impressed jury than the audience members who seemingly wanted to high-five Green on his way out.

Green said a Kaua’i jury would no doubt “indict a coconut.” And she suggested it could have been Sandra Galas’s boyfriend Ryan Shinjo (currently serving time in federal prison on meth charges) who could have killed her, or another man she was dating off and on at the time, John Lopez. Green also asked whether the paternity was known of Galas’s unborn child. (Paternity, like gender, often can’t be determined conclusively in the early stages of pregnancy.) It was a question which, in my humble opinion, proves nothing except motive on the part of an estranged husband – who Ponce said witnesses called “jealous” and whom Green himself characterized as “still in love with her (Sandra).”

Though Green didn’t argue for a lesser charge than second-degree murder, he did argue for a reduction of bail from $1 million to $100,000. Judge Watanabe set the bail at $300,000 with conditions, including electronic monitoring.

Perhaps I’m an optimist, but I have faith that a jury will overcome distractions that will be thrown around in court for months to come. This is just one of many red herrings we will see tossed out during this case. I just hope that as entertaining as Green is, we all remember why we’re here. A woman and mother of two young children (Darren’s) was killed in cold blood.

Give Judge Watanabe credit for saying she won’t allow her courtroom to become a circus. I’m pinning many of my hopes to that.

A Father’s Letter To The Judge

Dear Judge Watanabe:

I want my words to reach you as you consider the bond hearing of my daughter’s killer.

Not a day goes by that my daughter and the memory of her is not with me or with my wife. Our daughter was our heart, our joy, our baby, and her children, our grandchildren, the pinnacle of our expectation as people, especially in our old age. Darren Galas did not just take our daughter but our grandchildren too, as he remarried the person with whom he had cheated on our daughter and turned our grandchildren against their mother and us.

We want justice for our daughter. We won’t have her back and we won’t have returned to us the lost years with our grandchildren, but her killer deserves the weight of the law upon his shoulders. He deserves to not have another night of peaceful rest just as we have not had one since our daughter’s battered body was found.

Early on in their divorce processing, the words of my daughter still ring out in my mind. What Darren told her then: “I don’t care anymore, I have nothing to lose.” That attitude then now makes me fear for the safety of my grandchildren, should he be released.

What Sandra’s murder allowed Darren Galas was the opportunity to cash in on her life, marry his mistress and deny her children the opportunity of growing up with their mother.

I plead to you on behalf of myself and my wife, and in memory of our daughter, Sandra Mendonca Galas, that you take into consideration the premeditation aspect of the murder of our daughter. Please don’t lower his bail.

Lawrence Mendonca