PENDLETON - Ryan Keith Huebner tearfully apologized today to the family of the Hermiston woman he bludgeoned to death last August.
His apology came just before Judge Rudy Murgo sentenced him to life in prison with a minimum of 30 years.
"What I did will never bring her back," Huebner, 23, of Hermiston, told the family of Tammy Lisa Gallegos, 39. He killed her Aug. 23, 2003, in an alley behind Northwest Sixth Street at around 11 p.m. "I'm totally sorry. I know you guys loved her."
Gallegos' daughter, Dashia, and sister, Lori, attended the sentencing, at which Huebner changed his plea to guilty of one count of aggravated murder rather than risk going to trial July 19. He could have faced the death penalty if convicted at trial. The count of aggravated murder was founded on a charge that Huebner attempted to sexually abuse Gallegos.
Umatilla County District Attorney Chris Brauer dismissed another count of aggravated murder and a count of murder in the plea negotiation, which was signed by Huebner May 28.
Huebner told the court he met Gallegos at a party the same day he killed her. He said he was "heading back home to get more drugs (marijuana) and a couple of cigarettes" when Gallegos approached him. Huebner admitted to then hitting Gallegos over the head "multiple times" with a baseball bat, and that he had been smoking marijuana "periodically throughout the whole day."
According to Brauer, neighbors heard what they originally thought was the sound of a paintball gun and came outside to see a man "crouching over something" and threw rocks at the man, causing him to run off. The neighbors then found the body of Gallegos.
Huebner said he did not realize Gallegos was dead until he saw the police cars arrive and the officers questioning people. Murgo asked Huebner if he knew he had killed Gallegos.
"I thought I just knocked her unconscious," Huebner said, also admitting that he did not call an ambulance or try to help Gallegos. Huebner is about 6-feet tall and 150-160 pounds, while his victim was about 5-feet, 5-inches tall and 140 pounds.
Huebner's attorney, Dennis Hachler, and his assistant, Ralph Smith, said they talked with Huebner and he agreed to the negotiation because they all thought it would be his best option. The other sentencing options for aggravated murder, if Huebner had opted to go to trial, could have been death or life in prison without the possibility of parole. Huebner waived the 48 hours allowed to him to wait for a sentence and decided to be sentenced this morning.
Huebner sat emotionless in his bright yellow prison smocks for most of the hour-long hearing, but became tearful when he spoke to the court just before his sentencing. As he spoke, Gallegos's sister Lori interrupted, saying she didn't understand why he would do such a thing.
"You're just a kid yourself," she said. "Why would you do this to yourself?"
Looking at the Gallegos family, Huebner asked for their forgiveness.
"I just wish you can find it in your hearts to forgive me," he said.
"Do you forgive yourself?" Lori Gallegos asked. "Does your family forgive you?"
Murgo made sure Huebner understood that by pleading guilty, he waives all his rights to file for more motions or to pursue others that had already been filed. Murgo also made it clear as to how serious aggravated murder is in the criminal system.
"Taking the life of someone is the worst offense of the criminal code," Murgo said.
Dashia Gallegos, in her statement to the court, asked Huebner why he "took my mother away."
"He not only took my mom away, he took my little sister's mother away," Dashia Gallegos said, noting Gallegos had just had a baby a short time before she was killed. "... I just want to know why."
Brauer said "there's never a good enough reason as to why."
Huebner was to be transferred to the state prison intake center today before he is sent to one of the state's correctional facilities.
Following the hearing, Huebner's sister apologized to the Gallegos family for what her brother did. Huebner's parents also attended the hearing today.
This was Huebner's first felony conviction, and he had gone through a diversion program for driving under the influence several years ago.
Contact Casey White at (800) 522-0255 (ext. 1-227 after hours) or by e-mail at email@example.com.