WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - A man accused of killing his adoptive mother and her husband in 2009 pleaded guilty Tuesday to two counts of first degree murder and one count of armed robbery. A judge sentenced him to two consecutive life terms without parole.
Gerard Edward Altman is accused of murdering his mother, Laura Gallagher, and her husband James. The couple was found stabbed and beaten in their home on Westridge Drive in Ogden Feb. 4, 2009.
Altman was originally facing the death penalty until prosecutors examined his 20-page mental health report that came from a state doctor in January.
The report states that Altman was born addicted to heroine from his birth mother. He was immediately given up for adoption to a hospital in New York. That's where Laura Gallagher, a social worker, found him.
According to Altman's attorney Rick Miller, Altman spent much of his adolescent life in mental institutions. He became a heavy user of narcotics and would spent 13 years of his young life in prison for robbery.
Laura had three adopted children, including Gerard. She married James Gallagher and the two moved to Wilmington. James had two daughters of his own, both of which were in court on Tuesday morning.
Gerard had moved down with this parents and was working odd jobs, attending class at CFCC and "couch surfing," according to District Attorney Ben David.
In court, it was noted that he had always had a fiery relationship with his mother but a clear motive for the murder has never been established.
David summarized the event of the murder briefly, as family members held each other.
After a missed dentist appointment and James' birthday, a neighbor called 911 asking for a welfare check. When authorities arrived at 424 Westridge Court, the stench of decay was in the air.
Inside, James Gallagher was discovered on a recliner and appeared to have been dead for days. He had suffered 17 stab wounds to his face and chest.
James had also been struck by the claw of a hammer in his forehead.
Bloody footprints were found in the kitchen that were later matched to Gerard. They lead to a back bedroom where Laura Gallagher was found lying face down in the doorway with 12 stabbing wounds to her head and hands.
Altman was arrested in February 2009 from the Reserve at Forest Hills apartment complex on Darlington Avenue after a resident tipped off authorities. Authorities found an empty block of kitchen knives that matched the murder scene, five $100 checks and a bottle of Oxycotin in Laura's name.
It was later discovered that he had pawned 47 pieces of Laura's jewelry, bought food for friends and an expensive baseball after the murder. Altman was heavily impaired when he was arrested.
At the time of the arrest, District Attorney Ben David said he would push for Rule 24, which is the death penalty.
Tuesday, David noted that his decision to go for life in prison without parole was not one of mercy, but instead, a push to get the greatest outcome for all involved. It would be less likely, through the appeal process, that a death sentence would be followed through.
In court, Altman kept his head down and rose only briefly to offer a simple "sorry."
One of James' Gallagher's daughters addressed the court to share all the happy moments her father has now missed, but was thankful for the court making sure that Altman would "spend forever with his miserable self."
The family has only asked that after the appeal process has expired, that any property confiscated from the Gallagher home be returned.
Altman will now spend a few years at the central prison in Raleigh before being transferred to one of the state's 70 prison camps.
He is not eligible for parole.
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