A 55-year-old man on trial on charges he stalked a Merced County commissioner and his wife -- Christine McFadden -- had an apologetic tone on the witness stand Tuesday, but denied threatening the couple.
Keith Ryan Gallagher admitted sending anonymous letters to Commissioner Gerald Corman's family home, addressing many of the letters to McFadden. He looked up their address online.
Several years prior to McFadden's marriage to Corman, her four children were shot to death by her ex- husband in 2002 while she was out for a morning walk. Her story gained national attention after being featured on Oprah Winfrey's show.
On Friday, McFadden testified for the prosecution about Gallagher's letters.
The defendant on Tuesday described being upset about losing a 50-50 child custody arrangement with his ex-wife. Gallagher said he hadn't been properly notified about the Nov. 15 court hearing where Corman changed the child-custody terms.
"It seemed like an artificial barrier had been put between us," Gallagher said, explaining losing custody of his children. "All the history of warmth and affection didn't seem to matter."
Tall, wearing slim eyeglasses, and with neatly combed shoulder-length silver hair, Gallagher spoke in a lowered, at times shaky voice. He wept at several points during the hearing, particularly when discussing his estranged relationship with his two sons.
Under questioning from his attorney, David Renteria, Gallagher claimed he wrote the letters to McFadden because he was "hurt and felt a profound sense of loss, and wanted to share that with someone."
When asked by his attorney about calling Corman a "scumbag," Gallagher said he was sorry. "I was extremely hurt. I apologize for using that word," he said. "I don't think any wife wants to hear that about her husband."
Gallagher acknowledged going to Corman's home before midnight, saying he used his "freakishly long" arms to reach out with a can of spray paint, spraying the words "Corman (expletive) kids" in the commissioner's driveway -- an act he called juvenile and cowardly.
"I regret the medium, I regret the language, I regret that I resorted to the tactics of a common tagger," he said.
When Renteria asked his client whether he intended to frighten anybody, he replied, "No, not at all." During the hearing, Gallagher also said, "I don't believe I've ever threatened anyone in my entire life."
Deputy District Attorney Matthew Serratto peppered Gallagher with questions, asking why he had "the nerve" to send the letters to McFadden anonymously, if they weren't meant to be threatening.
Gallagher replied the letters wouldn't be threatening, if they only contained information. "I mistakenly, clumsily and wrongly thought (McFadden) might have a sympathetic ear with her husband on some of these matters," he said.
Harbors no ill will
Serratto asked the defendant questions about how the obscene message in front of Corman's home wasn't supposed to be perceived as threatening -- particularly given McFadden's traumatic experience, losing her children to violence.
Gallagher replied although he was angry at Corman's decision in family court, he harbors no ill will toward Corman or his wife. "I hope they live long, prosper and raise two beautiful children," he said.
This week the defense also called several character witnesses to testify about Gallagher's personality. John Dillard, a Santa Barbara respiratory therapist and friend of Gallagher's since high school, described the defendant as a loving father who participated in activities with his children such as martial arts and music.
"He's totally peaceful," Dillard said. "I trust him as much as anybody I know."
Robert Osterman, a UC Merced criminology lecturer and a neighbor of the defendant's for about a year, described him as a "pacifist" and "really easygoing" person. "He seemed like a man of integrity," he said.
Under cross examination from Serratto, however, Osterman also acknowledged he didn't know Gallagher was previously convicted of federal mail fraud and was under investigation by Merced County Child Protective Services.
Gallagher's also accused of spray painting a vulgar message in front of Judge Ronald Hansen's home. He's charged with two counts of felony stalking and three misdemeanor counts for vandalism. If convicted, he faces a maximum of four years in prison.
City Editor Victor A. Patton can be reached at (209) 385-2431 or firstname.lastname@example.org.