1992 mystery leads to murder charge
The addition of new witnesses gives the case enough steam for an indictment
Blanca Lerma never gave up hope that her brother's body would be found and his killer brought to justice, even though he had last been seen alive in 1992.
Ruben Gallegos has not been found, but his alleged killer, the man last seen with him, was charged with his murder on Tuesday.
An Oahu grand jury returned an indictment charging former Pearl Harbor base police officer Jenaro Torres with second-degree murder. Lerma was one of 15 witnesses to testify in front of the grand jury.
A warrant has been issued for Torres' arrest. Bail was set at $500,000. Investigators believe Torres, 57, is in Las Vegas or in California.
"At least one answer is there for the family, when we can start trying to mourn. We haven't wanted to do that because we hold on to hope that maybe he's out there and that he's going to be with us," Lerma said.
But she knows that is not going to happen. She said she believes her brother is dead and that Torres killed him.
Gallegos was last seen alive at the Pearl Harbor Submarine Base Exchange. Lerma said her family will not be able to put her brother to rest until his body is found and returned to Texas. Gallegos is from El Paso.
Gallegos was last seen leaving the Navy exchange on May 1, 1992, accompanied by Torres, a Department of Defense police officer assigned to Pearl Harbor. Gallegos was 19 years old. Torres was not scheduled to work that day, but showed up at the exchange in uniform, armed with a .38-caliber revolver.
Gallegos was assigned $80,000 to cash sailors' paychecks. He was in his cashier's cage and had just opened for business when Torres showed up and escorted him out of the exchange.
When military police arrested Torres while he was trying to enter Pearl Harbor six hours later, he had in his car a handgun, his uniform, an electric stun gun and a bag containing Gallegos' wallet, hairbrush and key to the cashier cage. They also found all but $2,000 of the missing money in the trunk of the car. And investigators determined that the handgun had been recently fired.
"I don't think there's a question that Mr. Gallegos was killed in this robbery," said Susan Won, deputy state attorney general.
She said she believes the state will be able to prove murder without the victim's body.
Based on they type of mud on Torres' car, investigators made numerous searches of Waipio Peninsula but found no trace of Gallegos.
Without a body, prosecutors were not able to charge Torres with kidnapping or murder. He was instead convicted in federal court in 1992 for theft and a firearm violation. He was sentenced to two years in prison, part of which he served in an Oahu halfway house.
Won said the state is able to prosecute Torres for murder because NCIS continued to investigate the case and found additional witnesses. She said Torres cannot be charged with robbery or kidnapping because the statute of limitations for those offenses has expired. There is no statute of limitation for murder.
The NCIS worked with the state Attorney General's Cold Case Unit to bring the case forward for prosecution. The unit was established in February, and this case is its first indictment.
Lerma and her husband were in the Navy assigned to Pearl Harbor when her brother disappeared. She said Gallegos lived with them, worked part time at the Navy exchange and was getting ready to attend college.
Mandatory punishment for second-degree murder is life in prison with the possibility for parole. But because Torres is also charged with the use of a firearm in the commission of the crime, he might have to wait at least 15 years before being eligible for parole if he is convicted.