By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
By Michael Roberts
By Melanie Asmar
Joe Gallegos told the Bryants and Turville that they had helped turn his life around. Then he met another person who turned it upside down.
The winsome daughter of a local contractor, Heidi Hocker wanted to finish Ignacio High School early, so she signed up to do a special senior project that would get her the credits she needed. She knew and liked Jeb Bryant, so she asked him to be her project advisor. It was while working on that project one night at the Bryants' home that she first met Joe Gallegos. He was quiet at first, and very polite, but she wasn't immediately impressed. "He was nice," she recalls, "but it wasn't anything special at first."
She also knew Turville and says she respected and trusted him. "Josh was great. He could make you laugh about anything," Hocker says. "You could tell him anything." Mostly because of Turville, Hocker became part of the church's youth group that met so often in the summer after she graduated from Ignacio High. She even went to Navajo Lake when the boys would go cliff-jumping, though she never jumped. "I was always too scared," she says.
Gallegos did not spend all of his time in prayer. Hocker says he started focusing his attention on her, buying her flowers, always opening doors for her and telling her how much he thought of her. Jeb Bryant says he encouraged her to date Gallegos, which she did. With her help, he even got a job at a pizza parlor owned by her father. "We were together all the time, every day," Hocker says.
She says she was not his first girlfriend, but from what he told her about previous ones, she was the first one whom Gallegos didn't abuse in one way or another. "He just pretty much used them," she says, but she didn't feel used. While he often told her he loved her, she says, she never told him she loved him. "I'm a really independent person," she says, and even before any trouble started, she could feel Gallegos trying to wrap his arms around her entire life. "He couldn't control me, and that made him really angry."
The Bryants encouraged the summer romance within the parameters of an unmarried Christian relationship. "We felt like they were a good influence on each other," Kris Bryant says.
As the summer drew to a close, Hocker made plans to move to Greeley to attend college, where her goal was to become a history teacher. It was also a convenient way to end the relationship with Gallegos, whose attentions were charming at first but had grown smothering. She knew about his violent past and what he had told her about domestic violence in his family, but he never struck her, she says; he just tried to tell her how she should live her life. His view, she adds, was that most of her life should revolve around him. "He was constantly, like, trying to control me," Hocker says. "I just got sick of it."
At about the same time that Hocker was moving up to Greeley, Gallegos became eligible for parole, having finished half of his two-year sentence. People lined up to support Gallegos, including Bryant and Turville, who wrote letters to the parole board urging his release. Jeb Bryant was more than willing to write such a letter; he says Gallegos had "accepted Jesus in his heart as his personal lord and savior."
Supporting Gallegos in person at the Denver meeting was Paul Thornton, his Jacob Center case manager. Thornton told reporters after the murders that, at the time of the parole-board meeting, Gallegos had even offered to speak to school groups about how to stay out of trouble and that Thornton was going to set that up. (Thornton now refuses to answer any questions about the case.)
With so many positive comments, the Juvenile Parole Board meeting in Denver voted 4-0 to release Gallegos from the custody of the Division of Youth Corrections, which meant he was free to leave the Bryants' home. After his parole he would have much more freedom, although he was supposed to be under a set of restrictions. He was paroled to live with Turville, in a home overlooking Bayfield High School. The parole board had a letter from Turville stating that he was excited to have Gallegos in his home. It all seemed like a perfect arrangement to Jeb Bryant, who says Turville told him that Gallegos had been an effective recruiter for church youth-group activities. "Joe liked Josh," says Bryant. "They were friends. He was Josh's right-hand man."
The parole board ignored the only negative comments, which came from the district attorney's office in Cortez--the same office that had opposed Gallegos's placement in a proctor home. Those comments came in a letter from Patrick Sheeran, at the time a deputy DA from Cortez. He says today that he remembers wanting to use the strongest language he could--the strongest language he has ever used--to try to scuttle the parole. He wrote: "He has consistently shown no regard for the welfare of others. I have a serious concern for the safety of the public, as Mr. Gallegos, over the years, has acted in a predatory manner with no compassion for his innocent 'prey.'"