Jurors on Monday convicted a 31-year-old defendant of murdering a man in the Port of Long Beach after he followed his ex-girlfriend’s car and confronted her and her passenger on the side of the road.
Prosecutors said 21-year-old Armando Amaya was riding in the car with then-25-year-old Bryan Gallegos’ ex-girlfriend, Nicole Tejada, on the night of Sept. 4, 2016. Gallegos tailed them down 103 Freeway before they ended up on Hanjin Road in the port complex where Gallegos struck Amaya with a gun and shot him once in the face, prosecutors said at trial.
Amaya’s body was found at the port by authorities the following morning sometime around 10 a.m.
Detectives connected Gallegos to the crime and arrested him in October 2016 during a violent confrontation at a Wilmington home. As he was trying to flee, Gallegos rammed his car into a police vehicle and detectives shot him, according to authorities.
Gallegos eventually recovered and faced the charges against him at a trial that began two weeks ago.
During the case, Deputy District Attorney Karen Brako relied on security camera video of the shooting and testimony from Tejada, who identified the man in the footage as Gallegos. Tejada, who admitted to originally withholding information from police, was charged as a co-conspirator in the case but agreed to testify after being offered a plea deal.
During closing arguments on Thursday, Brako argued that Gallegos was guilty of first-degree murder, or, at the very least, second-degree murder, in addition to special allegations of using a firearm in the commission of a felony and using a firearm resulting in someone’s death because he intentionally pointed the gun at Amaya’s head and shot him knowing it could result in death or great harm.
Brako added that Gallegos also showed signs of premeditation and lying in wait as he drove to The Break Room bar with a loaded gun and the intention of seeing his ex-girlfriend before eventually chasing her and Amaya for several miles before the shooting, Brako said.
She supported her argument further through the use of cell phone towers, which pinpointed Gallegos’s phone in the same area as his ex-girlfriend at around the time she was near the bar. Gallegos then followed her to a dead end where her car couldn’t go any further, Brako said.
“Each of these actions takes thought and consideration,” Brako said. ” … The defendant waited for the opportune time to act.”
But Gallegos’ attorney, Michael Balmer, painted his client as a protector who was worried about his ex-girlfriend. Balmer argued Gallegos went to the bar that night to help her because she was drunk and “out of control.”
When Gallegos chased his ex-girlfriend down the 103 Freeway, it wasn’t to intimidate her but to get her off the road because she was driving drunk, Balmer argued. Gallegos also never intended to kill Amaya, according to Balmer. Instead, the gun went off during a “struggle” between Gallegos and Amaya, he told jurors.
“What I just heard was ‘I intend to kill you but before I do that let me hit you with my gun first,'” Balmer said. “You don’t get close enough for hand-to-hand combat if you intend to kill.”
In addition, Balmer tried to discredit witness testimony from Tejada, the ex-girlfriend, by painting her as a “party girl” that was blackout drunk the night of the shooting.
“She’s drunk no question about it, and I doubt she remembers anything,” Balmer told jurors.
In her rebuttal, Brako called Balmer’s arguments speculation and said Gallegos was in control of his actions that night.
“He wants you to believe a gun went off,” Brako told jurors. “Guns don’t go off unless you have a finger on the trigger.”
As to the assault charges for allegedly ramming the car of detectives trying to arrest him, Balmer argued Gallegos didn’t know he was being surrounded by cops and that crashing into the vehicle blocking him in was an act of “self-preservation.”
“There’s no evidence that he had any idea he was being arrested,” Balmer said.
But Brako emphasized the detectives identified themselves as police and used sirens and vests with the words “police” when contacting Gallegos.
“He knew it was the cops and his time on the run was over,” Brako said. ” … That’s why he did what he did.”
Jurors deliberated for nearly two days before reaching a verdict and finding Gallegos guilty of first-degree murder and assault with a deadly weapon. The jury also found the special allegation that Gallegos used a firearm in the commission of the crime to be true.
Gallegos will be sentenced on Feb. 14, 2023. He faces 50 years to life in prison for the murder conviction, with an additional four years for the assault with a deadly weapon.