2 life terms for Phoenix man who fatally beat kids

By AMANDA LEE MYERS | April 4, 2012 | 9:55 PM EDT

PHOENIX (AP) — A Phoenix man was sentenced to two terms of life in prison Wednesday for brutally beating two boys to death with a baseball bat in a random attack in 2008 two days before Christmas — a crime that shook their neighborhood and the entire Phoenix area.

Joe Sauceda Gallegos, 39, was sentenced in Maricopa County Superior Court in downtown Phoenix after agreeing to plead guilty to two counts of first-degree murder to avoid getting the death penalty.

Maricopa County Bill Montgomery told The Associated Press that prosecutors were willing to give up seeking Gallegos' execution because of his mental-health issues, which would have further delayed the case and could have made him exempt from the death penalty anyway.

He said prosecutors discussed the plea agreement with the boys' family members at length, and they agreed that life in prison would be a just resolution given the circumstances.

"True justice would be bringing those boys back, and that's just not going to happen," Montgomery said.

Cousins Jesse Ramirez, 7, and Edwin Pellecier, 10, were playing at a west Phoenix park on Dec. 23, 2008, when Gallegos attacked them at random with a baseball bat and repeatedly bludgeoned them.

A neighbor found the boys with massive head injuries soon after, and Gallegos was arrested within hours of the attack. Police said his shoes and clothes were bloodied and he smelled of chlorine. They also found a baseball bat in his apartment that had the boys' DNA on it.

The boys, who were described as being as close as brothers, died within hours of each other at the same Phoenix hospital three days after the attack.

"It was absolutely horrific," Montgomery said. "These were two little boys who went out to play and had their lives taken from them for absolutely no justification whatsoever in one of the most brutal and violent ways imaginable. They had their entire lives ahead of them."

At the time, Gallegos' uncle told police that he believed Gallegos had been diagnosed as a schizophrenic.

A year after the killings, The Arizona Republic reported that Phoenix police were called twice about Gallegos in July 2008, that he was ordered hospitalized the second time, and that on Aug. 12, 2008, a judge ordered him into treatment for a year.

The Republic wrote that Gallegos didn't complete the minimum monthly mental-health visits required by the judge and that he wasn't seen again after being released from a hospital in October 2008.

Gallegos' brother, Joe Gallegos, told the Republic that the family tried repeatedly to get help for him, that they had him committed twice, and that both times his brother was released.

Before Gallegos' trial got under way in 2010, a judge declared him mentally unfit to stand trial, ruling that Gallegos didn't understand the charges against him and couldn't assist in his own defense.

Gallegos was sent to the Arizona State Hospital and was immediately rearrested and recharged with murder after he was cleared for release last month. He then was found mentally competent to stand trial and pleaded not guilty to the murder charges before agreeing to the plea deal Wednesday.

Montgomery said Gallegos will not be eligible to have his sentence reduced.

Gallegos' attorney, Tim Agan, said Gallegos agreed to sign the plea deal because "he feels really badly about what he did and is taking responsibility for it."

"Obviously he's very sad about having been involved in this and taking these kids' lives," Agan said. "I think this is a fair and just result given the circumstances, and hopefully maybe the finality of the whole thing being over will help people heal and move on. But I don't know if that's even possible in this circumstance."


Follow Amanda Lee Myers on Twitter at https://twitter.com/#!/AmandaLeeAP