MARTINEZ -- An El Cerrito man who beat a nurse to death with a table lamp while an inmate in the Martinez Detention Facility in 2010 was sentenced Friday to 12 years in prison.
Before Judge John W. Kennedy imposed the sentence -- the maximum allowed under the terms of Aaron Nygaard's plea of guilty to voluntary manslaughter in the death of Cynthia Barraca Palomata -- he heard from a few of her many family members and co-workers who attended the hearing.
"My father still utters her name from time to time," said Palomata's son Earl, in a letter read to the court by his uncle. "She never got to see the grandchild she wanted me to have. The maximum penalty is not near enough to replace the love we've lost."
Nygaard had just been booked at the detention facility on burglary charges when Palomata took his vital signs in an intake area. When the native of Nabas, Philippines, turned her back, Nygaard smashed her in the head with a metal lamp. Palomata never regained consciousness and died two days later.
Nygaard, 38, who has a history of alcohol-related arrests in the Midwest, claimed he was delusional as the result of alcohol withdrawal.
Carla Wilson, Palomata's charge nurse, was first to tend to the stricken 55-year-old.
"There are nurses who still have trouble walking into the intake area," Wilson said. "Nurses are caregivers. Violence against us while giving this care should never be tolerated."
"Cynthia came to America, worked hard for years and was planning to retire in two months," said Greg Montes, a nurse who spent 16 years in the military. "She never got that chance."
Cecille Schultzmann-Barraca, the victim's sister, railed at the defendant.
"Can you imagine the pain she felt, Nygaard?" she asked, crying. "Did it make you happy? You know what it's like to go to the hospital and tell her goodbye and you see a tear running down her cheek?"
Nygaard made a short statement apologizing to the victim's family.
"I'd like to offer my humblest apology to the Palomata family and say how very sorry I am for all the pain and loss I've caused," he said.
Kennedy considered Nygaard's history of alcoholism and letters of support from his friends, including his Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor.
"On balance, I find the aggravating factors outweigh the mitigating factors," he said.
In addition to his sentence, Nygaard was ordered to pay $7,500 in victim restitution, $41,055 to Palomata's widower, who has moved back to the Philippines, and $30,673 to Palomata's son.
Afterward, Schultzmann-Barraca said she was relieved and happy.
"It's not enough to get my sister back," she said. "But it was the best they could do."
Schultzmann-Barraca said that in the Philippines, it's a tradition for families to mourn lost loved ones for one calendar year, then gather together in prayer. But the process in this case was extended.
"It's sort of like a moving on with your life," she said. "Now we can do that. We've been waiting until now."
Contact Gary Peterson at 925-952-5053. Follow him at Twitter.com/garyscribe.