MARTINEZ -- Saying that she lacked a conscience and empathy, a Contra Costa County judge on Friday sentenced a 60-year-old Southern California woman to eight years in prison for kidnapping her infant granddaughter as part of a bizarre plan to pass her off as her own.

Ericka Gallego, of El Monte, had faked a pregnancy for months before she broke into her son's Knightsen house in the middle of the night May 22, 2011, and stole her 4-month-old granddaughter Ramy out of a bassinet just inches from the child's sleeping parents.

A statewide search effort was underway as Gallego presented the 14-pound infant to friends in El Monte as her 2-week-old daughter, Katrina. Certain something was amiss, the friends called police, who recovered Ramy 15 hours after she was reported missing.

Ericka Gallego, of El Monte, Calif., when she worked as a clerk at Madrid Middle School.  (SGVN/Staff Photo by Keith Durflinger/SVCITY)
Ericka Gallego, of El Monte, Calif., when she worked as a clerk at Madrid Middle School. (SGVN/Staff Photo by Keith Durflinger/SVCITY)

Deputy public defender David Goldstein on Friday asked for probation and court-ordered mental health treatment for the woman he said has been diagnosed with various mental illnesses, including a delusional disorder.

Judge Thomas Maddock found Gallego, who has no criminal record and worked for a school district more than 20 years, guilty of kidnapping and residential burglary in April. The attorneys agreed to waive a trial and submit the case to a judge based on police reports.

"Incorrectly, but in her own mind, she thought the child was in a dangerous way," Goldstein said.

Deputy district attorney Paul Graves said he concedes that Gallego is "not right in the head" but believes he could have convinced a jury that she was malingering had he objected when she was sent to a mental hospital for incompetence while she was awaiting trial.

"Her problem is not her mental state. Her problem is she doesn't care about anyone else," deputy district attorney Paul Graves said. "She was prepared to raise that child while her own son and daughter-in-law thought that their child was dead for the rest of their lives."

Gallego threw herself a baby shower in which she spent $1,500 on a photographer and $2,000 on mariachis, authorities said. When her son called in a panic to tell her that her granddaughter was missing, she brushed him off, according to the child's mother, Kristin Gallego.

Kristin Gallego said she's forgiven her mother-in-law for what was easily the worst day of her life. She said that for months, her three older children would not walk to the bathroom, or their bedrooms, by themselves and constantly asked, "What if grandma gets out of jail and steals me next?"

"My wish today is that Erika would be able to put aside her manipulative ways, put aside her selfishness and look into the eyes of her son and say, "I'm sorry,'" Kristin Gallego said. Her husband, Rudy, did not attend the sentencing.

"He doesn't want to see her," Kristin Gallego said. "He's disowned her."

Ericka Gallego, wearing her long silver hair half up in braids, did not speak at the sentencing other than to say she understood her right to appeal the conviction.

She never once glanced in Kristin Gallego's direction during the two-hour hearing and afterward, as she was led out of the courtroom in handcuffs and turned her body to avoid eye contact with her daughter-in-law.

Contact Malaika Fraley at 925-234-1684. Follow her at Twitter.com/malaikafraley.


Kristin Gallego of Knightsen, Calif., with her four-month-old daughter Ramy Gallego on Thursday May 26, 2011.  (Dan Rosenstrauch/Staff)
Kristin Gallego of Knightsen, Calif., with her four-month-old daughter Ramy Gallego on Thursday May 26, 2011. (Dan Rosenstrauch/Staff)