Burlington man who murdered WWU student sentenced in Whatcom County

A Burlington man will spend the rest of his life in prison for the August 2019 shooting death of a Western Washington University student.

On Monday, Oct. 3, Whatcom County Superior Court Judge Evan Jones sentenced Rigoberto Galvan, 24, to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

A jury convicted Galvan Sept. 15 of premeditated aggravated first-degree murder (domestic violence) and first-degree burglary while armed with a deadly weapon for the Aug. 14, 2019, death of 22-year-old Stephanie Cresswell-Brenner.

The jury also found Galvan guilty of several special verdicts for him committing the murder and burglary while armed with a firearm, and because he murdered an intimate partner.

Opening statements in Galvan’s jury trial began Aug. 29.

Cresswell-Brenner was a senior at WWU studying anthropology and had plans to become a physician’s assistant, her family told KOMO News.

Galvan and Cresswell-Brenner began a romantic relationship in 2017 and later lived together in a Happy Valley neighborhood apartment. Cresswell-Brenner broke up with Galvan, who then moved out of the house, in May 2019.

On Aug. 13, 2019, Galvan worked two calls as an EMT before driving to Cresswell-Brenner’s home. Galvan parked in the alley and grabbed his handgun loaded with hollow point bullets. He listened outside to Cresswell-Brenner and her neighbor watching television together in the neighbor’s apartment before using a hidden spare key to enter Cresswell-Brenner’s home and go up to her room.

Galvan texted and called Cresswell-Brenner multiple times before he climbed through her window, onto her neighbor’s balcony, and went inside the neighbor’s apartment. There, he told the neighbor to run and said he was going to kill Cresswell-Brenner.

Galvan ultimately fired 15 rounds from his Glock 19 handgun, at least 10 of which struck Cresswell-Brenner. After he killed her, Galvan then went back into Cresswell-Brenner’s home, where he left the handgun in her room, and called 911 and confessed to the killing.

A firework

In court Monday, numerous family members and friends spoke about the impact the loss of Cresswell-Brenner had on their lives.

They shared stories about a young woman who was intelligent, strong, had a passion for welcoming and helping others and who loved to cook extravagant meals.

Cresswell-Brenner’s mother, Lisa Brenner, said the loss of her daughter is often too paralyzing to put into words and that she’s been numb since her daughter’s death. Brenner said her daughter made friends with everyone and hardly complained. She said her daughter loved life and her family, had big dreams, and was on her way to becoming a doctor. Brenner asked the judge to make an example of Galvan and show that domestic violence won’t be tolerated within the community.

“She was a firework,” Brenner said. “I respectfully ask that you recognize the gravity of what this man has done, not only to my daughter, but to her family and those who loved her.”

Cresswell-Brenner’s aunt and uncle shared a joint statement read by her uncle, Jesse Brenner. He said his niece’s death will affect him for the rest of his life, and that he and his family live in fear of what Galvan can do.

“Steph was a bright light that was extinguished,” he said.

Many asked the judge to recognize the “irreversible damage” Galvan had done to Cresswell-Brenner’s family and friends by murdering her, and urged him to sentence Galvan to life in prison.

Many of Cresswell-Brenner’s friends said her death has changed the way they view romantic relationships. Several said they now have safety plans for exiting relationships and have issues trusting new people. They said Cresswell-Brenner’s murder underscored the very real dangers of domestic violence.

They also spoke about the fear they feel that either they will be targeted by Galvan, or that an armed person will break into their homes and murder them. Several spoke about the intense anxiety and mental health struggles they’ve experienced since Cresswell-Brenner’s death, and some mentioned jobs they had lost in order to attend the trial.

Galvan’s friends and family members submitted letters to the court prior to sentencing, and Galvan’s sister read a statement in court from Galvan’s parents.

Galvan spoke and said he doesn’t expect to be forgiven and can only strive to do something positive with the rest of his life. He said he’ll live with his actions, shame, sorrow and regret for the rest of his life.

Maximum penalty

Prosecuting attorneys who handled the case asked the judge to sentence Galvan to the maximum penalty allowable under the law. Based on his convictions, Galvan’s standard range was life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Whatcom County Chief Criminal Deputy Attorney Erik Sigmar said Galvan was “exceptionally dangerous,” was convicted of the most serious offense on the books, and asked the judge to follow the state legislature’s mandated sentence for such crimes.

Sigmar said Galvan attempted to intimidate multiple witnesses who were Cresswell-Brenner’s friends who testified by staring them down in the courtroom during his jury trial. Sigmar also shared several statements Galvan made to his mother during phone calls from jail that Sigmar said showed Galvan’s lack of remorse, attempts to control the courtroom and that Galvan knew his actions are harmful, but doesn’t care.

Galvan’s criminal defense attorney, Court Will, argued that Galvan should be considered a youthful offender due to his age at the time of the murder, which would allow the judge to deviate from the standard range. Will said Galvan was going to be haunted by his actions for the rest of his life, but asked the judge to take into consideration Galvan’s youthfulness and his mental disorder.

Will asked the judge to sentence Galvan to 35 years in prison.

After hearing several hours of impact statements from Cresswell-Brenner’s friends and family, Jones sentenced Galvan to life without parole. No probation was set.

Jones determined Galvan did not meet the criteria to be considered a youthful offender and deemed him a functional adult at the time of the murder. Jones also determined the characteristics of the crime itself did not meet the criteria for Galvan to be considered a youthful offender, as Galvan had time to react to the break-up and made a series of decisions before ultimately shooting his ex-girlfriend to death in her neighbor’s apartment.

“Because of your decisions, because you took a life in the manner you did, you have affected the lives of every one in the courtroom and the security of the community, and I am sentencing you to the maximum time allowable under the law. Your life shall be spent in custody,” Jones said, addressing Galvan.

Galvan has 30 days to appeal his convictions.

Resources

Brigid Collins Family Support Center: 360-734-4616, brigidcollins.org

Child Protective Services: Washington state hotline for reporting child abuse and neglect, 866-829-2153.

Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault Services: 24-hour Help Line: 360-715-1563, Email: info@dvsas.org.

Lummi Victims of Crime: 360-312-2015.

Tl’ils Ta’á’altha Victims of Crime: 360-325-3310 or nooksacktribe.org/departments/youth-family-services/tlils-taaaltha-victims-of-crime-program/

Bellingham Police: You can call anonymously at 360-778-8611, or go online at cob.org/tips.

WWU Consultation and Sexual Assault Support Survivor Advocacy Services: 360-650-3700 or wp.wwu.edu/sexualviolence/.