The Springs man who tortured and killed a four-year-old Cockapoo that belonged to his aunt last December pleaded guilty to a felony charge of aggravated cruelty to animals April 12 in the Riverside courtroom of State Supreme Court Justice Mark Cohen.
“I want to make sure you know exactly what is going on here,” Cohen said to Jose Jesus Galvez-Garcia, 22, through a court translator, Ana Kestler. “I am the judge. I am not making any promises to you.” He told the defendant that he could very well sentence him to the two-year maximum the law allows.
Galvez-Garcia’s attorney, Stephen Grossman, had previously told his client that a two-year sentence was a real possibility. Cohen warned that a guilty plea is the same as a conviction at trial, and could result in his deportation. Cohen asked Galvez-Garcia, who is from Poloros, El Salvador, if he wanted to withdraw his guilty plea, which Galvez-Garcia declined to do.
On the evening of December 2, after purchasing a 24-pack of beer and drinking to the point of drunkenness, and angered at his aunt, who lives with his uncle on Thomas Avenue in East Hampton, Galvez-Garcia drove to their house. The aunt had criticized Galvez-Garcia for drinking too much, the defendant later told police in his confession.
He saw the Cockapoo, named Simba, in his aunt’s front yard. The dog knew Galvez-Garcia, and ran to him. “It came right up to me when I got out of the car,” Galvez-Garcia told police. Galvez-Garcia scooped the dog up, threw it into his 2014 Nissan, and drove back to his mother’s house on Cedar Drive in Springs. He had just moved in with his mother and stepfather three days earlier, after having lived out of his car for some time following an eviction from a room he was renting at another Springs residence.
Once at his mother’s house, Galvez-Garcia left Simba in the Nissan while he went inside to the kitchen and took a knife with a five-inch blade. He then grabbed a shovel from his stepfather’s work truck, got back in his vehicle with the dog, and drove to the end of Breeze Hill Road in Marina Lane Waterside Park, which was particularly desolate at that time of year, and at that time of day — about 8 PM.
After killing the animal, he returned to his mother’s house. There, he behaved erratically. He told his family that he had been at the beach, and that the blood stains on his jacket were from a spilled bottle of Coca-Cola. He finally passed out on a couch.
Alerted early on the morning of December 3 that Simba was missing, Galvez-Garcia’s mother, stepfather, and uncle went to search the area at the beach Galvez-Garcia had said he had visited the night before. There, they found the dog’s mutilated body in a swampy area by the beach, where Galvez-Garcia had thrown it after killing it. He had tried to dig a grave for the dog with his uncle’s shovel, he later told police, but was too drunk to do so.
Jake Kubetz, the prosecuting attorney, questioned Galvez-Garcia during his allocution in front of Cohen on April 12. When accepting a guilty plea, the judge must make sure that the defendant freely admits to committing each element of the crime he is pleading to.
Handcuffed, Galvez-Garcia shifted his weight back and forth on his feet as he stood before the judge. “Did you intentionally kill the dog?” Kubetz asked him.
“Not intentionally,” Galvez-Garcia responded. Cohen paused briefly, sending a clerk to get the book of statutes, to ensure that the language of the allocution was precise.
Kubetz continued, asking if Galvez-Garcia had strangled the dog. “Yes.” Had he not then stabbed the dog multiple times? “Yes.”
“You wanted to kill that dog,” Kubetz said. “Yes,” Galvez-Garcia responded softly. “Did you intentionally cause severe physical injury?” “Yes,” Galvez-Garcia said. “The dog wasn’t attacking you at that time, was it?” Kubetz asked. “No.”
By the time Cohen’s clerk returned with the statute, Cohen himself had found a copy of the law and read it aloud. “A person is guilty of aggravated cruelty to animalswhen, with no justifiable purpose, he or she intentionally kills or intentionally causes serious physical injury to a companion animalwith aggravated cruelty.”
Satisfied that the allocution had touched the needed elements of the crime, Cohen accepted the guilty plea, and set May 14 for sentencing after a pre-sentencing investigation by the probation department is completed. By May 14, Cohen said he would have had the time to examine all the documents Grossman had presented to the court as mitigating reasons against the two-year maximum sentence. Those documents include letters from Galvez-Garcia’s family.
By the sentencing date, Galvez-Garcia, who has been incarcerated since his December 3 arrest, will have been behind bars for over six months. That time will be credited to his sentence. Even if sentenced to the two-year maximum, with one-third time off for good behavior behind bars, which is standard in county jail, he will likely be released early next year.
However, when Galvez-Garcia walks out from whatever correctional facility he is assigned to, federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents could well be waiting. Galvez-Garcia, who has been described alternately as being in the country on a work permit and/or a green card, is now a convicted felon who, at the same time, is a registered alien with the Department of Homeland Security. Those are facts that ICE agents, who work closely with the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Department on such matters, are not likely to overlook.
Galvez-Garcia had been in the U.S. for three years when he was arrested. When he was young, his mother had made the difficult choice many immigrant parents are faced with, leaving her child in Poloros while she earned money for him in America. Poloros is near El Salvador’s border with Honduras. It is one of the most impoverished areas in the world.
As a young child, Galvez-Garcia told police, with his mother gone, he had been repeatedly abused “for many years.” He also told police that he drinks alcohol because it is the only thing he can do that makes him “feel better.”