Randall Benton / rbenton@sacbee.com

Jesus Gallegos, speaking Friday before he was sentenced for the fatal stabbing of Triston Salladay in Tahoe Park, tells the court that he hears voices from a device he says was implanted in his ear in childhood. "I just want to say I was forced to do it, because I have a device … embedded in my mind," he said.

Jesus Gallegos gets 26-year prison term in fatal stabbing

Published: Saturday, Mar. 16, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Sunday, Mar. 17, 2013 - 10:21 am

No doubt about it. The judge, the professionals at the psychiatric hospital, the defendant's sister, even Jesus Julian Gallegos himself – they all said something was wrong inside the young man's head.

But was it enough to cloud his judgment on right and wrong? To affect his understanding that repeated stabs of a knife into another young man likely would kill him?

Just before a Sacramento Superior Court jury convicted him of first-degree murder in January, Gallegos withdrew his plea of not guilty by reason of insanity. On Friday, Judge Steve White sentenced him to prison for 26 years to life for the 2010 stabbing death of Triston Ashley Salladay, a 23-year-old electrician and father.

But even after the sentencing, questions remained about the state of Gallegos' mental health – what kind of treatment he'd received, why he stopped taking medications, and whether Triston Salladay would still be alive today if Gallegos' treatment in the system had unfolded differently.

Now 23, Gallegos told the court, "I just want to say I'm sorry for what I did," which was to take a butcher knife to Salladay's Tahoe Park apartment and stab Salladay at least 10 times with it, first inside the residence, then on a landing outside, and then at the bottom of a stairway where they had tumbled to the ground.

Prosecutors said the killing resulted from Salladay's accusation that his PlayStation video game player had been stolen by a friend of Gallegos.

"When I was little, my mother told me there was something inside my head, an ear implant, and I've heard it since I was little, inside my head," Gallegos told the court. "So it's like a device inside my head. I was controlled to do it. … I just want to say I was forced to do it, because I have a device inside my mind, a device embedded in my mind."

Gallegos' lawyer, Assistant Public Defender Amy Rogers, said that while her client's psychiatric situation "does not rise to the level of NGI" – not guilty by reason of insanity – he does have "pretty significant mental health illness."

"He was treated for a short period of time prior to the incident that led to his arrest," Rogers said, "and spent five days at the hospital with some medication."

But "due to the lack of resources, lack of funding, lack of insurance, he was not able to keep the medication" when he got out, Rogers said. "So then he went off medication, and as a result we are here today."

Rogers was not available after the sentencing to provide details on Gallegos' history of mental health treatment before Salladay's killing.

In his trial brief, Deputy District Attorney Eric Kindall wrote that Gallegos previously had only one documented instance of hospitalization for psychiatric treatment, and that it came in November 2008 – a full 15 months before the Salladay murder on Feb. 14, 2010.

That episode began Nov. 6, 2008, when Gallegos' sister called police to report he was high on Ecstasy and getting violent. Police took Gallegos into custody, but he was released the next day. His sister, however, felt that Gallegos still "was showing symptoms of paranoia" when he got out of jail, and she took him to the UC Davis Medical Center, the trial brief said.

Gallegos then was transferred to the Sacramento County Mental Heath Treatment Center and on Nov. 8 to the Solano Psychiatric Health Facility, where he was diagnosed with psychosis "not otherwise specified," according to the prosecution trial brief. Gallegos stayed at the Solano facility until Nov. 14, the brief said.

According to the brief, a psychologist who examined Gallegos after the Salladay killing said there was "insufficient basis for me to find legal insanity."

A psychiatrist concluded that Gallegos knew he was stabbing someone, knew it could cause serious injury or death and knew the difference between right and wrong. In retrieving a knife to confront Salladay, Gallegos "acted in a purposeful, goal-directed way to execute a plan of action," the psychiatrist said.

At Friday's sentencing, Judge White told Gallegos that "it was apparent in court you had mental health issues. There's nobody in this courtroom, I think, who would dispute that," though "it's equally clear the law holds you accountable for your conduct."

"This is a tragedy all the way around," White said, "most significantly, for Mr. Salladay, who lost his life. It also is a tragedy that reflects badly on the way the mental heath system is resourced and provided in our community and communities throughout California and in this country."

White said "it is merely a footnote in this sentencing, but it strikes the court that had the proper mental health facilities been available, and adequately resourced, Mr. Salladay would still be alive today."

The prosecutor did not make any remarks at the sentencing. Salladay's uncle, veteran journalist Robert Salladay, said that while "it's clear from his past" that Gallegos had mental health problems, "I hope that it's not a case where he fell through the cracks and this murder could have been prevented with something as simple as having health insurance.

"I'd like to find out more about his mental health condition at the time of the murder and whether or not he was on medication or should have been on medication," Salladay said.

The sentencing brings "some finality here, which is good, but we're going to carry this sadness for the rest of our lives," Salladay said. "This was a huge waste for two young men. I hope Jesus finds some redemption in prison, that he fixes himself and helps fix other people in prison."

Call The Bee's Andy Furillo, (916) 321-1141. Follow him on Twitter @andyfurillo.

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