Chutzpah: Murder for Insurance Money Life Sentences Affirmed

Killers Try Again to Reduce Sentence & Fail Again

INSURANCE FRAUD IS A VIOLENT CRIME

When convicted of murder in the first degree and conspiracy to commit murder for life insurance money, the defendants require a great deal of chutzpah (unmitigated gall) to file multiple appeals to reduce or eliminate the life without parole sentences. In the latest effort, The People v. Leny Peterson Galafate, F081563, California Court of Appeals, Fifth District (June 9, 2022) the Court of Appeal wrote a detailed opinion discussing all of the arguments filed by the murderer expending more time and paper than a convicted murder who had already appealed unsuccessfully to different courts that was not deserved.

FACTS

In 1989, appellant Leny Peterson Galafate and her then-husband, codefendant Roman Galafate III, were convicted after a joint jury trial of count 1, first degree premeditated murder, with the special circumstance that the murder was intentional and carried out for financial gain; and count 2, conspiracy to commit murder for financial gain.

In 1991, the Court of Appeal affirmed defendants’ convictions and sentences on appeal and the Supreme Court refused to hear their case. Not convinced they appealed again involving Leny’s petition for resentencing pursuant to Penal Code section 1170.95, filed in 2019. Her petition alleged she was entitled to relief because she was not the actual killer, and her murder conviction was based on the felony-murder rule and/or the natural and probable consequences doctrine. The court summarily denied the petition without holding a hearing.

Leny asserts the superior court improperly relied on this court’s prior opinion to summarily deny her petition without a hearing, this court’s prior opinion is likely unreliable, and she made a prima facie case for relief because the instructions allowed the jury to convict of murder her based on an imputed malice theory.

In the mid-1980’s, defendants Roman Galafate (Roman) and his then-wife, Leny Petersen Galafate (Leny), resided with family members in Delano, California. Roman was an agent for Midland National Life Insurance Company (Midland National) and had an office in the MGM Professional Building in Delano.

Roman processed an application for a $250,000 insurance policy on the life of Violeta Petersen. The application was dated February 18, 1986, and named “Leny Petersen” as beneficiary of the proceeds. Leny Petersen was Leny’s maiden name.

Roman transmitted the completed application and money order to Midland National in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Midland National received the documents sometime between 6:15 a.m. on Friday, February 21, 1986, and 6:15 a.m. on Monday, February 24, 1986.

On February 24, 1986, Dr. Armand L. Dollinger, a forensic pathologist, performed an autopsy on the five-foot three-inch, 102-pound body of Violeta Petersen. Dr. Dollinger concluded Violeta died by asphyxiation caused by ligature strangulation sometime prior to 2:00 p.m. on February 22, 1986. The ligature could have been a rope or cord. Dr. Dollinger testified death by ligature strangulation would have taken several minutes.

On June 11, 1986, Midland National mailed Reny Petersen a check for $76,362.50, representing the proceeds from Violeta’s 1985 policy plus interest.

Convictions

On January 23, 1989, after a joint jury trial, both Roman and Leny were convicted of count 1, first degree premeditated murder, with the special circumstance found true; and count 2, conspiracy to commit murder for financial gain, with two overt acts found true.

The court sentenced both Roman and Leny to life without the possibility of parole for count 1, first degree murder with the special circumstance, and stayed the term of 25 years to life for count 2, conspiracy to commit murder.

A review of the entire record reveals substantial evidence of defendant Leny Galafate’s status as both an aider and abettor and a conspirator. Leny Galafate forged Violeta Petersen’s signature on a $250,000 insurance policy application. The application named defendant, under her maiden name of Leny Petersen, as the policy beneficiary. Someone murdered Violeta Petersen within a week of the execution of the application. Defendant submitted a $250,000 claim, dated April 4, 1986, to Midland National.  Midland National received the claim and questioned both the use of defendant’s maiden name and her signature on the application.

Defendant accompanied Reny Peterson to the bank on two separate occasions. On June 25, 1986, defendant extracted $10,000 in cash from Reny Peterson. On July 8, defendant took Reny Peterson to the Presideo Savings and Loan and obtained a cashier’s check for $66,000. That check was deposited to defendant Roman Galafate’s bank account the same day. The People properly note Leny’s actions fully supported the jury’s determination she conspired to commit murder for financial gain.

Writ Petitions

Both defendants filed numerous post-judgment writ petitions challenging their convictions. In 1987 and 1989, defendants filed writ petitions with the Court of Appeal and were denied. In 1997, defendants filed a joint petition for writ of habeas corpus in superior court; the petition was denied because defendants reasserted issues already raised and rejected in their direct appeal.

DISCUSSION

In this case, the jury found true the financial gain special circumstance based on instructions that required the jury to find either that Leny was the actual killer, or she intentionally aided and abetted the actual killer in the commission of the murder.

The true finding on the special circumstance therefore established the jury made the findings necessary to show an intent to kill for her conviction of first degree premeditated murder under the law. Leny is thus ineligible for resentencing as a matter of law, and she was not prejudiced by the court’s summary denial of her petition.

Moreover, under the special circumstance instructions and finding, it is clear the jury convicted Leny of first degree premeditated murder by finding she had the intent to kill. She therefore is ineligible for resentencing as a matter of law.

Leny asserted that the jury at her 1989 trial could have convicted her of murder based on an “uncharged” conspiracy theory based on insurance fraud as the target offense and murder as the nontarget offense. Leny argued the aiding and abetting and conspiracy instructions, combined with the prosecution’s insurance fraud motive theory, allowed jurors to impute malice to Leny from her participation in the insurance fraud.

The Court of Appeal concluded that Leny’s claim that she was convicted of murder based on an uncharged conspiracy theory is specious and refuted by the record that may be considered in making the prima facie determination.

CONCLUSION

While the superior court failed to comply with section 1170.95 by summarily denying Leny’s petition for resentencing without conducting a hearing or giving a statement of reasons why it was not issuing an order to show cause, the court’s statutory violations are not prejudicial because Leny is ineligible for resentencing as a matter of law and her arguments to the contrary are meritless.

ZALMA OPINION

People who commit insurance fraud are, by definition, immoral. Those who commit premeditated murder to collect on a life insurance policy are evil and have no morality. Leny proved the lack of morality to file multiple, detailed appeals of her sentence only to have the California Court of Appeal write a lengthy opinion pointing out her criminal conduct and she will serve the rest of her life in gray bar hotel, the California State Prison. Hopefully no court will even consider another appeal. She proves that insurance fraud is a violent crime.


(c) 2022 Barry Zalma & ClaimSchool, Inc.

Barry Zalma, Esq., CFE, now limits his practice to service as an insurance consultant specializing in insurance coverage, insurance claims handling, insurance bad faith and insurance fraud almost equally for insurers and policyholders. He practiced law in California for more than 44 years as an insurance coverage and claims handling lawyer and more than 54 years in the insurance business. He is available at http://www.zalma.com and zalma@zalma.com.

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About Barry Zalma

An insurance coverage and claims handling author, consultant and expert witness with more than 48 years of practical and court room experience.
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