Justice At Last for Sandy G?

With their murdered daughter Sandra's birthday approaching, Toshie and Lawrence Mendonca have not given up in pushing prosecutors and police to stay on the case. They have, and now it seems justice may be close at hand for 'Sandy G';. Amanda C. Gregg photo

Like any proud father, Lawrence Mendonca goes through pictures of his daughter with a smile.”This one is in Japan,” he says of a photograph of his then-7-year old daughter, Sandra Galas, sitting on the floor, arranging red gladiolas. Though it’s been some 26 years since that picture was taken, Mendonca admires it bittersweetly, as this week – May 15 – would have marked Sandra’s 33rd birthday.

The once celebratory day now puts a spotlight on the lack of closure his family has had since Jan. 25, 2006, when they first got word that 27-year-old Galas, a young and vibrant mother of two young boys, had been found murdered in her car in the sleepy Westside town of ‘Ele’ele. Every year since then, instead of celebrating the birthday with their daughter and her two sons, then 5 and 3 (now 11 and 8), Lawrence and his wife Toshie visit Galas’s gravesite. It’s a somber tradition followed by either dinner at the Beach House Restaurant in Poipu, where Sandy was assistant food and beverage manager, or dinner at home, making “something that we know Sandy liked,” Mendonca says.

Sandy and big brother Lawrence

It’s now been more than five years since the Mendoncas received the worst phone call any family can get, notifying them that their daughter had been killed. And while it’s no secret to the rest of the island that the hunt for her killer continues – posters and “Never Forget Sandy G” bumper stickers are on display all over the island – it’s less known how dedicated and determined Mendonca has been.

“I made a vow from day one,” Mendonca says, “that I will not rest until justice is served.”

For Mendonca, “justice” means the capture of his daughter’s murderer, bringing that person or persons to trial and getting a conviction. And while that seems a long road ahead, it’s also been a long but continuous road so far, one that has demonstrated Mendonca’s dedication, to say the least.

That dedication has led to several small victories in the case over the past several years, victories like new DNA testing technologies and getting the case looked at by key experts. But these little advances in the case haven’t happened without Mendonca’s pressing. Mendonca has played a large role in getting the case moved forward and analyzed by the right people – which has no doubt prevented it from going cold. So far that’s meant collaborating with then-new Chief of Police Darryl Perry, as well as Prosecuting Attorney Shaylene Carvalho and her deputy Jake Dela Plane.

May 15 would be Sandra’s 33rd birthday

Perry worked to get the case reviewed by a cold case crew on O’ahu, along with requesting Supervising Deputy Attorney General Chris Young to review the case. Perry was inspired, to say the least, following his meeting with Mendonca when he first took office on Kauai in 2007.

“We discussed Sandy’s case and we went out to the gravesite,” Perry said. “I made a promise to him and Sandy that we would not rest until this case is brought to justice. And we are still investigating the case and still moving it forward. We’ve been taking large steps in analysis of DNA and other evidence that we have in our evidence room. I feel we’re getting close to solving this case, but there is still a lot more to do.”

Mendonca also has been working to get things done, like getting the attention of media heavy hitters such as TV producers Vince Sturla of Dateline NBC, Gabrielle Saunders of 48 Hours and Denise Poon of America’s Most Wanted, who came to the Island to tape segments for Sandy’s story.

The Mendonca family

“A lot has been done, but we must not forget there is still a long way to go,” Mendonca says. “As I look into the case at what we have so far, it takes every ounce of energy to push myself forward with the matters at hand. My family and I have placed our trust in KPD and the legal justice system to bring this case to a close, no matter how long it takes.”

And while the progress has been slow, Mendonca doesn’t take it for granted.

“We want a conviction and I won’t give up,” he said. “It’s frustrating and sometimes I just want to quit … But her murderer will be brought to trial.”

Sandy was full of life. Photos courtesy Mendonca family

Mendonca is familiar enough with the case to present it to a jury himself. Having watched closely as three detectives have been assigned to his daughter’s case, he’s learned more than the average person wants to about the murder investigation process. It’s also stirred in him a desire to reach out and help young women better protect themselves. In an effort to make a dent in violence against women, Mendonca has partnered up for four years with the YWCA Kauai and Dennis (Mendonca’s cousin) and Susan Cabral, in hosting the Never Forget Sandy G Golf Tournament, which will happen Aug. 7 at Kaua’i Lagoons Golf Course. It’s a fitting match, as the YWCA Kauai’s mission includes empowering women against violence. Money raised from the event will go to the YWCA to help abused women and children.

The tournament is just one more way Mendonca is trying to honor his daughter’s memory, which, unfortunately for him and his wife hasn’t included getting to help raise her sons the way Sandra would have wanted. The Mendoncas only get to see their daughter’s children at T-ball games, as they are in the custody of their father, Sandra’s ex-husband Darren Galas, who was arrested and held for 48 hours following her murder. He was then released and no charges were filed against him.

sandra on her wedding day

What honoring her memory does include is taking time to remember `Sandy for all that she was, even as a little girl, he says: “She was always so full of energy. She wanted to do all and everything – now.”

Recalling, for example, Galas’s older brother Lawrence Jr. started school, “she was very upset because she couldn’t go to school also,” he says. When it was finally her turn to go to St. Catherine’s School, Sandy was determined to do well.

“She was rewarded with a trophy for perfect attendance from first through eighth grade,” Mendonca says. “It’s still on display at St. Catherine’s School.”

Besides a perfect attendance record, Galas also shined as a gymnast at age 4 and dancing hula at 5. By the time she was in 7th grade, she had dreams of becoming a journalist. Mendonca said she seemed to have an inner drive pushing her to challenge herself.

sandy’s attendance trophy at st. catherine’s

“In college (at University of Hawai-Hilo) she wasn’t satisfied with just 15 credit hours,” Mendonca says. “She wanted to take more.

I had to forbid her from taking more than 15 credit hours … I said don’t over-burden yourself, you’ll burn out.”

Carrying a heavy course load was in addition to working as an RA in the dorms, as well as interning at the student paper.

In addition to remembering Sandra and striving to get her killer brought to trial, Mendonca says he’d like to extend his family’s appreciation to all the people at KPD and the prosecutor’s office for working hard over the past “fast five years” to bring this crime to justice.

“Also our deepest appreciation goes to our friends who have always been there with their moral and legal support… Without which this would be unbearable.”

The Mendonca family is offering a $20,000 reward to anyone with information that could lead to an arrest and conviction of their daughter’s killer. If you have information, call the Kaua’i Police Department at 241-1700.