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FARMINGTON, N.Y. (AP) – They met in a Veterans Affairs hospital, a former airman with bipolar disorder who drank too much and a clerical assistant struggling to cope with her teenage son’s drug-overdose death.
Cynthia Galens and Thomas Stack soon moved in together, and their two-year relationship seemed to mirror his roller coaster battle with alcoholism. Galens says Stack was emotionally and physically abusive, and she decided one night to exact revenge by lacing a jug of margarita cocktails with antifreeze.
“If I didn’t want him around, I would’ve put a lot more in. I just wanted to get him sick,” state police said Galens told them in early January, three months after Stack’s death from complications of ethylene glycol poisoning.
“It’s a horrible thing I did,” she added. “I miss him so much I can’t stand it. I’m the reason he’s not here. He’s not a good person sometimes, but nobody deserves that.”
Galens, 51, has pleaded not guilty and is awaiting trial on a second-degree murder charge. Her defense lawyer, Matthew Mix, did not return calls.
Galens lived in Farmington, a rural bedroom community 25 miles southeast of Rochester, and worked for 30 years in a variety of roles – housekeeper, mural artist, clerical aide – at the VA Medical Center in nearby Canandaigua. She had two children from two dissolved marriages.
Her 19-year-old son, Matthew Barber, a restaurant cook poised to enter college, died in his sleep at his father’s home in October 2005 after taking a combination of marijuana, cocaine and prescription drugs during a night out with his buddies, said former husband David Barber.
Relatives say the tragedy sent Galens into a severe emotional tailspin.
The turmoil accelerated after she met Stack in 2007. Barber said the friendship cost Galens her job last year when the hospital discovered she was dating a patient.
After a spell in the Marine Corps, the Syracuse-born Stack became a senior airman while stationed at California’s Travis Air Force Base from 1982 to 1986. He lived on and off in a town house Galens shared with her daughter, Emily, and was admitted to hospitals several times for alcohol abuse.
In January 2008, Galens said Stack threatened to kill her second ex-husband, David Galens, and their 16-year-old daughter, then grabbed the phone when she tried to call 911. She was granted a stay-away order that he violated by calling her repeatedly. They got back together after he served three months in jail.
A year ago, Stack was arrested again on harassment charges for allegedly shoving Galens against a microwave. She bailed him out once more, and he ended up spending just six days in jail.
On Oct. 3, an ambulance crew removed an unconscious Stack from the house. He died four days later at age 48.
Ethylene glycol, a toxic ingredient in antifreeze, is sometimes ingested in suicide attempts or as a cheap substitute for alcohol.
Based on Stack’s history of alcoholism and depression, her “very credible” story about finding him and the fact that she called for help, the death was deemed an accident, possibly a suicide or “just ingestion of antifreeze for its alcoholic content,” said state police Capt. Scott Crosier.
Three months later, during a trip to Clearwater, Fla., authorities say Galens told a friend what she had done. Her friend notified police. When Galens got home, she agreed to come in for questioning.
According to state police Investigator Mark Eifert, Galens said she poured a shot glass of the sweet-smelling, syrupy automotive chemical into a store-bought container of margarita mix, placed the cocktail in the refrigerator and went to bed early on Oct. 2, predicting he would drink it.
She said Stark was “feeling poorly” the next morning. At noon, she left to pay a visit to her son’s grave, a weekly ritual.
When she returned at 4 p.m., she found him unresponsive. He was foaming from the mouth and breathing loudly. She said she first called David Galens, her ex-husband, and when he showed up some 20 minutes later, they agreed to call an ambulance.
Galens didn’t tell paramedics about the antifreeze. She told investigators she was afraid for herself and “terrified for him” but opted to do nothing because “I just thought he was sick.”
If convicted, Galens could get a maximum sentence of life in prison. At a recent preliminary hearing, she sobbed continuously and rocked gently in her seat.