A Southern California woman who kidnapped her infant granddaughter from the child’s Knightsen home in 2011 and tried to pass the child off as her own was sentenced to eight years in prison today. A Contra Costa County Superior Court judge handed the sentence to 60-year-old Ericka Gallego, who took her 4-month-old granddaughter Ramy Gallego from the child’s bassinet as her son and daughter-in-law slept just feet away during the early hours of May 21, 2011, according to prosecutors. Prosecutors say Gallego then brought the baby with her in a taxi back to her home in El Monte, near Los Angeles. Kristen Gallego, the baby’s mother, described the panic and terror she felt after seeing her daughter missing from the bassinet at about 6 a.m. that day. “I began going ballistic, screaming at my husband to wake up, searching for a phone to call 911, not really knowing what was going on,” she told the court. “After running around the house for what felt like hours, screaming, then talking with officers as they arrived, I was in complete shock. I didn’t know what to think,” she said.
In the hours that followed, Gallego and her husband were questioned by police and she said, “I went from feeling like the victim to being accused of killing my child,” she said. Meanwhile, more than 100 people from the Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Office and a volunteer search and rescue team were looking for the baby. Around 10:30 p.m., El Monte police called the sheriff’s office to notify them that an acquaintance of Ericka Gallego had reported that she was believed to have the baby. El Monte police found the child with the grandmother at her home and arrested her. Ramy was taken into protective custody and picked up by her mother the following day, according to the sheriff’s office. At today’s sentencing hearing, Deputy District Attorney Paul Graves told the court how Ericka Gallego planned the kidnapping for months and even threw a baby shower for herself in an attempt to eventually pass the child off as her own. “She was prepared to keep that child and raise that child while her own son and daughter-in-law thought their child was dead for the rest of their lives,” Graves said.
While visiting her son and daughter-in-law at their home in Knightsen a couple of weeks before the kidnapping, Gallego learned the codes to the security gate outside of the house, according to prosecutors. On the night of May 21, she took a bus and a taxi to get to Knightsen, put on gloves, and entered her son and daughter-in-law’s house in the 1500 block of Tule Lane, according to Graves. After taking the sleeping baby, she then called another cab to take her on the roughly 6-hour trip back to El Monte, prosecutors said. Gallego’s attorney, David Goldstein, told the court this morning that while his client committed a horrible act, her status as a “60-year-old mentally ill woman with no criminal record” should be considered.
He also noted that Gallego never harmed her granddaughter but took the baby because she “incorrectly believed the child was in danger’s way.” However, Judge Thomas Maddock said the 8-year prison sentence — a term agreed upon by the defense and prosecution — is more than fair considering the sophistication it took for her to plan the kidnapping and the heartlessness she showed in carrying it out. “What I believe is that she lacks conscience and lacks empathy — she would be a danger to the family and to society,” the judge said. Gallego, dressed in a green county jail jumpsuit, turned her back to her daughter-in-law as a bailiff led her out of the courtroom in handcuffs following the hearing.