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After guilty verdict, widow still in fear

By Heather Carlson and Christina Killion Valdez

The Post-Bulletin

On Thursday, a Rice County jury found Hector Medrano guilty of stabbing and strangling Jose Tapia Gallegos in his Dodge Center home. The news, however, didn’t bring much peace to Gallegos’ widow.

Elva Cruz Gonzales only knew the man who killed her husband from a police mug shot published in the Post-Bulletin. The man who led her husband’s killer to him, however, is someone she and her husband knew well, she said.

Gallegos’ 23-year-old nephew, Salvador Villa Gallegos, is also facing first-degree murder charges for allegedly helping Medrano kill Jose Gallegos. Salvador Gallegos has yet to enter a plea.

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That’s why still, almost two years after the killing and in light of the guilty verdict, Gonzales lives in fear.

"We turned him in," she said, referring to her and her daughter’s comments to police investigators regarding Salvador Gallegos.

Before his death, Jose Gallegos told his wife and her youngest daughter that he feared living with his nephew, Gonzales said. Now, she fears Gallegos’ family will threaten either her or her daughters, she said.

Gonzales, who lives in a small town outside of Guadalajara, Mexico, also regrets not attending Medrano’s trial.

"My situation is very sad," Gonzales said. "I can’t go there. I don’t have the money to go there. ... I can’t speak English, and I don’t have a place to stay. Also I can’t be gone from work long. With this I pay for our house."

When he was working in Dodge Center, her husband sent money to support Gonzales and her three daughters, she said. Since his death, Gonzales said she received some pension checks, but that has since stopped.

To make ends meet, Gonzales works cleaning a school where she earns about $130 every 15 days, she said. It’s enough to pay for her home and some food, but it’s not enough for her to travel to Mexico City where her husband is buried, she said. Instead, she said she lights a candle near his photo in her home.

Jury deliberations

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Attorneys in the first-degree murder trial for Medrano finished closing arguments Wednesday after eight days of testimony. The 12-member jury deliberated for several hours before announcing the verdict at 11:30 a.m. Thursday.

Medrano, 38, of Rochester, was convicted of two counts of first-degree murder and one count of second-degree murder for the death of Jose Gallegos, 50. A sentencing hearing in Dodge County has not yet been set but the charges carry a mandatory life sentence.

Defense attorney Paul Spyhalski said the jury’s verdict was clearly not what his client wanted to hear.

"Obviously we were hoping for a better outcome for Hector, but we know the jury spent a lot of time on the case," said Spyhalski, a public defender.

He added he expects the verdict will be appealed given "the seriousness of the charges."

The verdict brought some comfort to the victim’s brother, Vincente Gallegos, said Jerianne Gonser with Dodge County Victim’s Services. Vincente Gallegos had traveled from California to testify in the murder trial.

Shortly after the verdict was announced, Gonser notified Vincente Gallegos about the jury’s decision.

"I did call Vincente and he sounded very relieved," Gonser said.

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Jose Gallegos was killed March 20, 2005 in his home at 105 Second Ave. N.E. in Dodge Center. His body was found April 14, 2005 dumped on a farm in rural Goodhue County.

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