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Recent Parole of Gallegos Defended by Authorities

Background: Juvenile enforcement officials say all the proper steps were taken before the Sept. 11 decision was made.

September 27, 1996|H.G. REZA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Juvenile enforcement authorities in Colorado on Thursday defended their parole two weeks ago of a troubled teenager who killed three Orange County men, saying they painstakingly made sure he was eligible to be set free and live on his own.

In the wake of Tuesday's killings, the state's Division of Youth Corrections has come under fire for paroling Joseph Edward Gallegos, who had a history of violent crimes and was serving time for a racial assault.

But a Youth Corrections administrator said his agency scrutinized every aspect of the Gallegos case before deciding he was eligible for parole on Sept. 11.

In the end, the litany of social workers, law enforcement officials, friends and church officials who vouched for Gallegos made the difference.

"The killings were something that you don't expect will happen," said Frank Minkner, the Youth Correction division's western regional director. "This incident is the worst I've ever seen committed by one of our parolees."

Joshua Turville, John Anthony Lara III, and Steven David Bates, all 20, were shot multiple times execution style by Gallegos early Tuesday in Bayfield, Colo. The three men, lifelong friends and classmates at El Modena High School in Orange, were roommates of Gallegos and had agreed to take him in as a condition of his parole.

After the killings, Gallegos stole Turville's truck and drove 370 miles to Greeley, where his former girlfriend attends the University of Northern Colorado. He took 18-year-old Heidi Hocker and three other women hostage before a police sniper killed him. Gallegos shot Hocker in the foot before he was killed.

A review of the steps taken by Colorado juvenile authorities to release Gallegos, who had a criminal record beginning at age 13, showed there were no shortcuts taken to win his parole. And the procedures are similar to those followed by California officials before they parole a juvenile offender.

But unlike Colorado, a California Youth Authority administrator said it is unlikely that his agency would ever agree to allow a paroled juvenile to live with anyone 20 years old, as was the case with Gallegos. One condition of Gallegos' parole was that he reside at the same home with the three 20-year-old men who befriended him.

"It would be highly unlikely that any of our people would put a youngster with another youngster. Even if they are technically adults," said Tony Cimarusti, CYA assistant director.

He said that CYA officials want to give a parolee "every opportunity to succeed," and believe an 18-year-old would benefit either by living alone or with a mature adult in an agency-approved setting.

Nonetheless, Minkner in Colorado said Gallegos was freed only after he had gone through the appropriate levels of incarceration, and his request for parole was supported by various community, school and law enforcement officials.

The only objection came from a deputy district attorney who prosecuted Gallegos for a 1995 attack against a Middle Eastern man. Authorities said Gallegos claimed the man was a terrorist and smashed a beer bottle into his face. He was convicted of second-degree assault and sentenced to two years in custody.

In opposing Gallegos' parole, Montezuma County Deputy Dist. Atty. Patrick Sheeran warned that Gallegos "has consistently shown no regard for the welfare of others. I have a serious concern for the safety of the public."

Colorado authorities released a "delinquency history" of Gallegos Thursday. Despite a criminal background that dated back to 1991, Gallegos had never been incarcerated until his 1995 conviction. Instead, he had been repeatedly fined or placed on probation for 13 offenses that included shoplifting, assault and car theft.

After his sentencing in June 1995 for the beer bottle assault, juvenile correctional authorities followed routine procedure in preparing Gallegos for eventual parole, Minkner said.

This included jailing him in a detention facility for four months, followed by assignment for two months to a wilderness camp, four months at a halfway house and 4 1/2 months in supervised foster care before his parole.

"He had to earn the privilege to be assigned to the camp, halfway house and foster care," Minkner said. "Those are privileges available for juveniles who want to straighten themselves out."

At his Sept. 11 parole hearing, Gallegos' bid for freedom was supported by a local community review board composed of counselors, social workers and law enforcement officials who previously had recommended that he be placed in supervised foster care. In addition, a state evaluation team also recommended that he be paroled.

These groups were joined by Gallegos' employer, foster parents and a Sunday school teacher from the church he attended in also seeking his parole. Turville, who was murdered by Gallegos 13 days later, also spoke in support of his release at the parole hearing.

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