By Joline Gutierrez Krueger
Journal Staff Writer
Their tiny hands and bare backsides were walloped so hard and so often that the doubled-up leather belt had finally broken, its scraps having to be held together with duct tape so the "discipline" could continue.
The tape was a "scare tactic," as if a busted belt were not enough to terrify the four children, who at the time were 3, 4, 4 and 6.
Duct tape was also used to silence at least one of the children, a silver strip slapped across his mouth.
But its main purpose, authorities say, was to prepare the children for something even worse than belt beating.
The dreck of humanity spends its time thinking of new and creative (and, usually, untraceable) ways of inflicting abuse on its most innocent victims, and this was one of the more depraved ways imaginable.
A criminal complaint in this notorious Valencia County case describes how the children were strapped with the aforementioned duct tape to a chair, a towel placed over their heads and two wires from an electric fence control box affixed to their skin.
It was, for all intents and purposes, an electric chair.
Testimony from an expert witness indicated the kids were shocked with more than 1,300 volts of electricity — enough to deter a 2,000-pound bull.
Sometimes the wires were attached to a soda can, so that as the children got their hands on what they thought was a sugary treat they received a fierce shock instead.
Prosecutor Judith Reed called it the "Coke can of horror."
The children got the chair, the accused offenders told detectives, for telling lies.
Late last year, the parents of three of the children and the children's paternal grandmother accepted plea agreements in connection with the case.
But now for the real shocker.
Last Friday, a Valencia County jury hung on the four counts of child abuse against Gerald Tunnell, the boyfriend of the children's paternal grandmother and the accused mastermind of this bit of revolting voltaic sadism.
Perhaps jurors had agreed with Tunnell's attorney, Randy Chavez, that he had been framed by his three co-defendants to take the fall.
Perhaps it was something more curious. Jurors told attorneys after the verdict that not all of them had been convinced that sending volts through a child's body and emotional jolts through a child's psyche constituted abuse.
"Somehow, some of them believed that if you get shocked you don't have an injury and so that is not abuse," District Attorney Lemuel Martinez of the 13th Judicial District said. my emphasis
This, though child abuse is defined as the torture, cruel confinement or cruel punishment of a child.
Jurors also hung on a charge of kidnapping and one of conspiracy. They acquitted Tunnell of two counts of kidnapping. The judge dismissed another kidnapping charge.
In the end, the 54-year-old odd-jobber (and the only one of the four adults living with the children to have a job) was convicted of a single count of conspiracy to commit child abuse — good for 18 months in prison at most.
With time served and the usual deductions for good behavior, Tunnell could be a free man by the time he is sentenced.
This week, however, Martinez announced that his office will seek to retry Tunnell on the six charges this jury could not decide upon.
"We're going to do it again and see what a different set of 12 people has to say," he said. "We're going to give it a heck of a try."
Let's hope so.
The state had put all its efforts into prosecuting Tunnell, agreeing to let his three co-defendants take plea agreements in exchange for their testimony against him.
Except that only one of them — Kimberly Galczynski, the 25-year-old mother of three of the four children — testified at trial, and apparently not convincingly.
Galczynski, now expecting her fifth child though she has not been allowed to reclaim custody of the others, testified that she knew of the shockings and the beatings and had told Tunnell to stop it.
But she said she never called police, never tried to rescue her children from the ongoing abuse because she wasn't allowed to leave the house or use the phone.
Also apparently unable or unwilling to stop the abuse was Galczynski's husband, Anthony Welker, and his mother, Brenda Mundo, Tunnell's girlfriend.
According to the criminal complaint, Mundo, 52, knew about the abuse but left the room when it began; Welker, 23, used the belt and the electric shock box a time or two but said the children "just go along" with it.
Galczynski, who is still married to Welker though she is pregnant by a new boyfriend, pleaded guilty to four counts of conspiracy to commit child abuse and received five years of probation. She is serving that back in Missouri, living with an aunt and dreaming of a time when she never has to set foot in New Mexico again.
If I might speak for New Mexico, it's safe to say the feeling is mutual.
"I love my babies!" she wrote in her Facebook account this past Mother's Day. "They are my pride and joy!"
Welker, who looks not much more than a child himself, pleaded no contest in October to four counts of third-degree felony child abuse. His mother — Grandma B, as the kids called her when she wasn't leaving them taped to a chair — accepted a similar plea.
Both remain in custody awaiting their sentencing.
As for the children, Galczynski's brood is in her mother's custody in St. Louis.
The fourth child is Mundo's grandson from another son. No one can tell me what has become of him.
There are special places in prisons for those accused of abusing children, a special place in hell for them as well.
Let's hope that hell is even worse than the one these children have gone through.
UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. You can reach Joline at 823-3603, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @jolinegkg.
Read more: ABQJOURNAL UPFRONT: Seeking Justice After Kids' Electrified Hell http://www.abqjournal.com/upfront/25233432160upfront06-25-10.htm#ixzz0s7YX6kjF
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