On this day when friends often pull practical jokes, remember that sometimes things can backfire – terribly.
Just ask Alfred Galindo.
The 34-year-old Spokane man is serving 11 ½ years in prison and faces the prospect of many more after his girlfriend played a practical joke on him in 2009 that spiraled out of control, leaving a carload of Bible students fearing for their lives as Galindo repeatedly rammed their car under the mistaken impression that they were brutal kidnappers.
Now, his first-degree assault conviction is at the center of a legal battle as a Spokane judge seeks to defend her decision to show leniency in Galindo’s sentencing. Spokane County prosecutors argue he should be serving 27 years in prison.
“This case arises from a practical joke gone horribly wrong,” appellate Judge Kevin Korsmo wrote.
Galindo’s attorney, Frank Cikutovich, took it a bit further.
“It’s just a series of unfortunate events,” he said. “You couldn’t even make it up.”
It all started after midnight on Feb. 8, 2009, when Galindo’s girlfriend, Kimberly D. Brown, called from a local casino saying she’d met some guy to whom Galindo owed money and that she was in his car. She called again to say the man wouldn’t let her out of the car and that she was being kidnapped.
At some point, the girlfriend claimed they had stopped at a convenience store, and gave Galindo, who had been drinking that night, the description of the make-believe kidnapper’s vehicle. She told him they were headed north – then her cell phone died, Cikutovich said.
Rather than call 911, Galindo jumped into Brown’s 1995 Chevrolet Tahoe and raced north to see if he could rescue his girlfriend. Galindo was on Francis Avenue when he saw two men and a woman in a car matching the description, a 2005 Honda in the parking lot of the Safeway located at the intersection with Monroe Street.
Cikutovich said Galindo apparently thought he’d found his girlfriend and the kidnappers.
“He … sees a car, which is how (Brown) described it, a silver Honda. He approaches. They get scared and take off – which makes (Galindo) think that is the car. He starts ramming it,” Cikutovich said. “At some point he looks inside and it’s not her. It’s three kids from Bible study.”
Korsmo noted that Galindo also pointed a “realistic toy gun out the window and yelled at the driver to stop.”
Cikutovich said that once Galindo realized he had been ramming the wrong car, he left the scene.
“It’s this whole panic thing. He looks, it’s not her. He takes off and (police) find him later,” the lawyer said.
While Galindo was horrified by the mistake, the three occupants told police that they feared for their lives.
“You should hear the 911 call. Every time Galindo’s SUV hit their car, (the female victim) screamed like she was dying,” Cikutovich said.
Brown, who could not be reached for comment, also took the witness stand during the trial.
“She was sorry. She admitted that’s what she did,” Cikutovich said of Brown’s hoax. “If she hadn’t made that call, he would have still been at home waiting for her.”
Unfortunately, the story doesn’t end there.
When the trial judge, Superior Court Judge Linda Tompkins, decided to extend leniency to Galindo at sentencing, ordering 138 months in prison instead of the 324 months called for under standard state guidelines, prosecutors appealed.
Korsmo and two other appellate judges from the Division III Court of Appeals agreed with prosecutors on technical grounds. They have sent the case back to Tompkins, who still has the discretion to keep the sentence at 11 ½ years. However, Tompkins would be required to provide better written justification for the lesser sentence.