TECUMSEH, Neb. — New details emerged Wednesday into Michael Galindo’s brutal slaying in March at the hands of fellow inmates at the prison north of town at a hearing in a first-degree murder case against Eric Ramos, the only inmate charged so far.
But Nebraska State Patrol Investigator Neal Trantham, the lead investigator, said it’s hard to see on prison video but that between five and 15 inmates were involved in the initial assault on Galindo in a mini-yard March 2, according to videos at Tecumseh State Correctional Institution.
Galindo laid there for maybe five minutes before getting up and running inside. Two more attacks followed before he would be found dead inside cell 2A15, which wasn’t his own.
Trantham said the doctor who performed the autopsy counted approximately 130 stab wounds on Galindo's body, which contributed to his death along with the inhalation of combustible materials.
Galindo’s sister, Jennifer Galindo, gasped.
“Oh, God,” she said, muffling her mouth in the front row behind the prosecutors.
When Trantham was asked if he knew why Galindo, one of two men found dead that day, had been attacked, he said the simple answer was no.
“I have several suspicions,” he said.
Trantham said Galindo may have been involved in some illegal activities, or it could’ve been his association with a prison gang or people could have thought he was a snitch.
He said the catalyst of the disturbance March 2 was staff finding and seizing 150 pounds of prison hooch after they smelled alcohol in two cells.
Inmates got back from lunch to find out the alcohol was gone. They then refused to lock down at 12:51 p.m. By 2:35 p.m., prison video showed Galindo being assaulted in a mini-yard. Trantham said Ramos could be seen coming back from lunch, going to the shared yard, lighting a piece of cloth on fire and running off camera.
Then came the second of the attacks on Galindo. Trantham said he saw the man he believes to be Ramos on video with an object in his hand delivering three significant blows to Galindo’s torso as others attacked Galindo. Trantham believes Ramos may have used a metal piece from the gear box on an ice machine.
Eventually, they all left, but a short time later, he said Ramos returned alone and jabbed at Galindo some 15 times more with an object. Then, Trantham said, Ramos went outside to the yard again and burned a towel and his clothes in a pile.
So far, he said, Ramos is the only one he can identify by piecing together videos from different areas of the housing unit to follow his movements.
Defense attorney Jeffrey Gaertig questioned how Trantham could identify Ramos when inmates all wear the same prison-issued clothes.
“What we have is a 'where’s Waldo' situation,” he said, using Trantham’s own description of how he followed Ramos’ movements through the housing unit, watching for his build, clothes, sunglasses and the towel he held.
Gaertig said it was a stretch for the state to say out of all the inmates involved that they had the right guy.
“We don’t know who killed Mr. Galindo,” he said.
Deputy Johnson County Attorney Benjamin Beethe said Trantham and a prison employee identified Ramos as one of the inmates taking part in the assaults.
“If nothing else this would be an aiding and abetting to the murder,” he argued.
In the end, County Judge Steven Timm bound the case over to district court, saying there certainly was evidence that Galindo had been murdered and there was the investigator’s interpretation of the video.
“At trial, the jury can see the videos for themselves and it will be their decision as to whether or not the state has proven his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt,” Timm said.
Ramos was set to be arraigned Oct. 24.
No one has been charged in the death of Damon Fitzgerald, the other inmate found dead March 2.
In the courthouse hallway, Galindo’s father, Jay Cunningham of Kearney, said he hadn’t gotten a lot of information from the prison about his son’s death.
“I think the hardest part is learning what really happened,” he said.
Asked if he’s hoping the state brings charges against others involved, Cunningham said, “I’m praying they will.”
Brad Hansen, who took over as warden soon after the killings, testified briefly Wednesday, saying there wasn’t enough staff to go in sooner to regain control of the housing unit. Asked why it took so long to allow the cells to mechanically lock so inmates could protect themselves by being locked in their cells, he said he didn’t know. That’s protocol, he said.
That didn’t happen until 2:45 p.m., shortly after the final attack on Galindo.