By PAUL ANDERSON
City News Service
A 25-year-old La Palma man who killed his uncle and then set the body ablaze in Santa Barbara County was sentenced today to 15 years to life in prison.
Kirk Michael Galvin did not make a statement prior to sentencing, although the victim's mother asked the defendant in a letter read aloud in court to apologize to the family and explain his actions.
One of the victim's sisters asked Orange County Superior Court Judge Thomas Goethals to impose a stricter punishment than the law allows, but the judge said he had little discretion.
Galvin was charged with first-degree murder, but struck a plea bargain with prosecutors in April to admit to second-degree murder.
The motive for the crime has not been released publicly, but Goethals said, "It appears mental illness did play a factor in this case."
"No one may ever know for sure what happened or why it happened," the judge told the victim's family. "This is obviously a sad, tragic case ... I wish I could do something to ease your pain."
Lisa Eyanson of the Orange County Public Defender's Office declined to offer specifics on her client's mental health.
The defendant killed 53-year-old Douglas Galvin on July 27, 2011, in the La Palma apartment of his father, who was out of town. Two people found the torched body on July 30, 2011, in Santa Barbara County and alerted authorities.
Rosemary Galvin told her nephew it was a "vicious murder, Kirk, that you tried to cover up." She said she is haunted by thoughts of how her brother must have felt as his life was slipping away -- "the fear and confusion he must have felt when this nephew he loved" was attacking him.
"I have forgiven Kirk because I could not live with all that turmoil in my heart and mind," she said. "I hope while Kirk is in prison, he will make something of his life in honor of Doug."
A total of three of the victim's sisters addressed the court, telling the judge their brother had a great sense of humor and was handy with advice. He was a Vietnam veteran who served in the Navy and was active in multiple charities, they said.
Maureen Galvin, addressing her nephew, said, "Kirk, I want you to know I forgive you. And I think Doug would forgive you, too, because he loved you so much ... I hope you can get help and I hope you can help others."
But she said she hopes the defendant never gets out of custody because he is too dangerous, and also recounted how the family agonized as authorities were looking for her brother and how grief-stricken her mother was when given word of her son's death.
The body was so badly burned that investigators had to identify the victim through his pacemaker, she said.
Bridget Galvin said her brother loved the defendant and his sibling "like his own sons."