The conviction yesterday of Angel Montoya in the death of three-year-old Neveah Gallegos ends a long journey not only for the child's loved ones, but also for police, prosecutors and the public.
After all, Neveah died in 2007 and Montoya and Miriam Gallegos were arrested shortly thereafter. But justice was a long time coming.
Much of the tale is told in the 2009 indictment against Montoya, on view below in its entirety.
According to Neveah's maternal grandmother, who's quoted in the document, Neveah was happy and healthy in the late summer of 2007. Then, on September 21 of that year, Gallegos approached a woman on Cherokee Street and asked her to call 911. The reason: Neveah had been kidnapped, she said.
Shortly thereafter, Gallegos told Denver Police officers who responded to the call that she'd been walking Neveah to Denver Health Medical Center when a white, four-door car pulled up and a man hopped out of the passenger side, grabbed the child, put a rag over her mouth and climbed back into the vehicle, which sped away an instant later. Gallegos also provided a description of the supposed abductor.
It didn't take long for this dramatization to fall apart. Before long, officers spoke to a witness who lived near the apartment Gallegos and Montoya shared on Logan Street. The neighbor revealed that Montoya had asked to use his phone that afternoon. He called directory assistance to get the number for Sports Authority, where Gallegos worked, and told the person on the other end of the line there was an emergency and he or she needed to come home.
When this information was shared with Gallegos, the indictment continues, she allegedly confirmed that the kidnapping story was bogus and Neveah was dead. She added that Montoya had removed the child's body from the apartment.
From there, Gallegos told cops that Neveah had died of natural causes after failing to respond to her attempts at CPR. Once the child expired, she went on, Montoya put her body in a white trash bag with yellow handles before placing it inside a blue gym bag.
This narrative shifted again shortly thereafter, with Gallegos saying Montoya had been alone with Neveah, who was already dead when she returned home. But neither she nor Montoya revealed the location of the child's body.
At that point, Denver District Attorney's Office spokeswoman Lynn Kimbrough notes that this crime went public in a big way. "Then-police chief [Gerald] Whitman and District Attorney Mitch Morrissey held a joint news conference on a Sunday morning and asked people to help them look for this little girl," she says. "They specifically asked people in Denver to to out and look in their alleys, look in their dumpsters -- and people did. People spent the better part of that Sunday on into Monday looking anywhere they could think of."
A member of the public didn't find her, however. Instead, Kimbrough recalls, "police found her at Lakewood Dry Gulch." Neveah's body was in a trash bag covered with a large tree stump, an old tire and random debris.
Montoya and Gallegos were subsequently arrested, and an autopsy revealed a slew of wounds to Neveah. However, the coroner couldn't immediately determine a cause of death -- and the inability to do so resulted in effects that would ripple over not just months but years.
"We were faced with a 72-hour deadline to file charges," Kimbrough says. "But because the initial autopsy report didn't have a manner of death, the baby's death wasn't initially ruled a homicide."
Hence, Montoya and Gallegos were released, to the dismay of many. "There were a lot of angry people," Kimbrough concedes. "They were asking, 'How could you let them go?' And there was a very long time where we couldn't explain to people about how the detective" -- Mark Crider -- "was still working on it. But he was, and our folks were working on it, too. And they just never gave up."
Finally, in April 2009, after additional investigative work and consultation with a child-death expert, an indictment was obtained against Montoya. But the pace of the case remained logy. Gallegos, too, was busted, and she pleaded guilty to child abuse resulting in death in January 2011; she's currently serving a twelve-year sentence. As for Montoya, his prosecution finally got underway later that year, but very quickly ended in a mistrial because, Kimbrough says, "the first day of testimony, a witness testified to some information that the jury was not allowed to hear."
That witness, according to CBS4, was Gallegos, who revealed Montoya to be a sex offender.
As such, Chief Deputy DAs Michelle Amico and Christine Washburn had to start over again. The retrial of Montoya got underway in April, and after four weeks of proceedings, he was convicted by a Denver jury of first-degree murder, child abuse resulting in death and abuse of a corpse. He'll be sentenced on May 15.
The timing of the conviction was particularly satisfying for Amico. Kimbrough points out that she's leaving the district attorney's office next week after being named a district court judge in Arapahoe County. But she's hardly the only one relieved that the case is finally closed.
"This was a story that touched a lot of people," Kimbrough says.
Look below to see a larger version of Montoya's mug shot, plus a CBS4 report from just after the case went to the jury -- it includes footage of Montoya's and Gallegos's controversial release -- and the aforementioned 2009 indictment.
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More from our Colorado Crimes archive: "Kevin McGregor gets life without parole in murder of Todd Walker."