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Sandra Galas suffered a brutal death that took 10 years for authorities to prosecute, but her family made sure that all was not in vain, harnessing tragedy to help victims of domestic violence find safety.
On Jan. 25, 2006, Galas, 26, was found dead in her Kauai, Hawaii garage by her boyfriend, Ryan Shinjo, according to “In Ice Cold Blood” on Oxygen.
Galas had clearly been assaulted and strangled, and authorities had only two suspects: Shinjo, whose behavior raised suspicion, and her estranged husband, Darren Galas. Both men failed their polygraph tests.
Sandra and Darren had recently separated after Sandra found out that Darren was cheating. They shared custody of their two young boys. The morning of her death, Sandra was expected to pick up the boys from Darren's house, but she never showed up, he told investigators. Parts of Darren's story didn't add up, and he was arrested on suspicion of murder while investigators searched his home.
The evidence was lacking, however, and he was released, then granted custody of the two boys. Soon, Shinjo was arrested by federal authorities on unrelated charges: He was involved in a meth trafficking operation. Once Shinjo was imprisoned, he refused to speak further on Sandra's murder case, according to “In Ice Cold Blood.”
“He was going about his life while we were just sitting here hoping this was a nightmare,” Sandra's brother Lawrence Mendonca told producers.
The case went cold until 2008, when advances in forensic technology yielded a match for Darren's DNA on the clothes Sandra was wearing when she was killed. Prosecutors told hopeful investigators, however, that since the two were still married at the time, the DNA alone wasn't enough to bring charges.
In 2012, Kauai Police Chief Darryl Perry set a new investigator on the case. The detective dug into the case from the beginning and unearthed letters from Sandra to her divorce attorney that indicated she was frightened of Darren.
The key piece of evidence arrived in the form of a calendar Darren kept, including meticulous notes on every time Sandra upset him, including being late picking up the boys. Every day had an entry of some sort, except for the day of the murder, when Sandra obviously didn't show.
The evidence was enough for an indictment, but Darren was still free on bail for five more years while prosecutors put their case together. They knew that at trial, defense attorneys would point to Ryan Shinjo, who was their other suspect and in federal prison on drug charges. After he was released, however, he told investigators about Darren’s violent behavior he witnessed.
In January 2018, a plea deal was reached — Darren would plead no contest to first-degree assault inflicting serious bodily harm. Sandra's family was devastated, but prosecutors knew that going to trial with the evidence they had would risk Darren walking free.
In May 2018, Darren was sentenced to the maximum of 10 years in prison. In courtroom footage featured on “In Ice Cold Blood,” a member of Sandra's family read a powerful victim impact statement on behalf of her father, who died of a heart attack before the case was closed.
“He should consider himself damn lucky to only get 10 years,” he said. “We got life.”
In the years following Sandra's murder, her family had already begun healing by helping others, however, and that work continues today.
Larry and Toshie Mendonca, Sandra's parents, along with Lawrence, started the Never Forget Sandy G Foundation, raising money for the island's YWCA to help domestic violence survivors and raise awareness, according to Midweek Kauai.
The golf tournament originally served two purposes: To help victims and survivors, and to keep Sandra's case alive in the public mind. The family produced bumper stickers and offered a standing $20,000 reward for information leading to an arrest and conviction.
After Darren's sentencing, however, the event continued, traditionally earning between $12,000 and $15,000 for the YWCA, according to the Garden Island.
“I have the utmost affection and love for Sandy's family,” friend Renae Hamilton-Cambeilh told producers. “What they have done in terms of turning their unimaginable pain into something that really helps our community is incredible.”
For more on the Sandra Galas case, watch “In Ice Cold Blood” at Oxygen.com and airing Thursdays at 9/8c.
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