Conviction upheld in murder of war hero

Homicide News
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The man who killed a beloved 88-year-old World War II hero should serve a life prison term, an appeals court has ruled.

John Albay Galafate admitted he killed John Espinoza in Delano in September 2013, but claimed at trial he didn’t mean to. A Bakersfield jury convicted him of first-degree murder and elder abuse.

John Albay Galafate

On appeal, Galafate, now 53, claimed Judge John D. Oglesby should have given a specific jury instruction about mistakes made by kidnappers. Justices disagreed and affirmed the conviction.

Espinoza was Galafate’s landlord in Delano and was in the process of evicting him, according to testimony at trial.

It was undisputed that Espinoza disappeared after he went to see Galafate.

Espinosa’s car was found the next day, submerged in the Friant-Kern Canal.

His body was in the trunk. “Espinoza’s body was wrapped in a blanket, his feet and wrists were bound, a shirt was tied around his neck and a plastic bag was found on or near his head,” the appeals court decision said.

The cause of death was drowning with “other contributing factors of strangulation and multiple blunt-force injuries,” according to the coroner.

Prosecutors said the killing was part of a kidnapping.

But Galafate, testifying in his own behalf, said he accidently killed Espinoza when the older man confronted him about the eviction.

He said he panicked after the accident. He said he thought the older man was dead when he loaded him into the trunk of the car and steered the car into the canal.

If that were true, his attorneys argued, the death was not part of a kidnapping. That might reduce the killing to something less than first-degree murder.

On appeal, defense attorneys said Judge Oglesby should have given the jury a specific instruction about that possibility.

But the appeals court disagreed. Justices noted there was a jury instruction that said the victim had to be alive for a kidnapping to happen. That was enough, they said, and unanimously voted to let the conviction and 25-years-to-life prison sentence stand.

Espinoza was a barber and Delano community leader.

“Mr. Espinoza was a positive force,” said Deputy District Attorney Nick Lackie, who won the conviction.

“He was a war hero. You just don’t do that to a hero. You don’t treat somebody like that who’s done so much for the community and the country.”

Espinoza’s friend, Rita Verde, remembered Espinoza’s other contributions to the community.

“Sometimes some of the kids couldn’t buy their letterman jackets, so he would buy them,” she said. “He gave free haircuts to students who couldn’t afford it.”

Galafate is serving his term in the Sierra Conservation Center in Northern California. He will first be eligible for parole in 2034.

The case is Peo. v. Galafate, http://www.courts.ca.gov/opinions/nonpub/F075314.PDF

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