Inmate Pleads Guilty to Killing County Jail Nurse, Gets 12-year Sentence

April 12, 2014 9:00 am · 28 comments

A Contra Costa County Jail inmate was sentenced on Friday to 12 years in prison for the unprovoked killing of a 55-year-old nurse who was treating him while he was incarcerated in Martinez in 2010.

Aaron Nygaard, 38, received the sentence after pleading guilty in Contra Costa County Superior Court to charges of voluntary manslaughter with use of a deadly weapon in connection with the death of Cynthia Palomata.

Nygaard was originally charged with murder for Palomata’s killing but reached a plea agreement with the district attorney’s office.

The deal was reached after psychiatrists told the court that they believed Nygaard fit the legal definition of insanity at the time of the killing, according to Deputy District Attorney Mary Knox.

Prosecutors said he suddenly attacked the victim while she was treating him for alcohol withdrawal in the jail on the afternoon of Oct. 25, 2010.

Hours after he was arrested for burglarizing an El Cerrito home, Nygaard faked a seizure in the hopes of being released from the holding cell where he was being held, authorities said.

While at the nursing station, after admitting that he had faked the seizure, Nygaard suddenly grabbed a lamp off of a desk and used it to strike Palomata in the head.

The victim, who had worked as a nurse in Bay Area hospitals for two decades and at the Martinez Detention Facility for five years, was taken to John Muir Medical Center where she died three days later.

The court heard from many of Palomata’s family members and former co-workers.

“She leaves behind a family who is grieving and misses her – it’s just a tragic loss of someone who was attempting to do good for those who needed her,” Knox said.

ConcordDad April 12, 2014 at 9:41 AM

People get 12 years for selling drugs!!! Don’t you have to be insane to kill people? Normal healthy people don’t generally kill people.

CT April 12, 2014 at 9:41 AM

This solidifies that our mental health system is broken. Lets hope this young man gets the help he needs this time around.

not enough time April 12, 2014 at 9:53 AM

away from society for this guy. If sentenced to 12 years, will he be paroled in 6?

Murder is murder, mentally ill or not. He should suffer the appropriate consequences for his malfeasance.

Darwin April 12, 2014 at 10:07 AM

WTF??? My thoughts go out to the victims family. Once again California justice

Peanut Gallery April 12, 2014 at 10:30 AM

Nice job DA! WTF? This is horrible, the County should be ashamed. How do you sleep at night? 12 years for murder?

Bill April 12, 2014 at 10:38 AM

Why doesn’t the Martinez retention facility have cameras absolutely everywhere??

One word... April 12, 2014 at 10:46 AM

A B S U R D ! The judge should be ashamed!

Gina April 12, 2014 at 10:54 AM

How was he found insane when he was crafty enough to fake the seizure? This is a fat joke. I feel so horrible for the victims family. I hope the jail also secures down instruments that can be used as weapons.

guest April 12, 2014 at 11:30 AM

My mother was a nurse at Atascadero State Hospital (hospital for the criminally insane). There are people who are indeed insane, commit horrific crimes (murder), and don’t realize that killing another person is a bad thing or don’t realize they killed another person. Then there are people who are sane, and due to facing a long sentence in jail or prison, choose to kill jail or prison personnel, then claim insanity, in an effort to be moved to Atascadero or Napa.

Give him life without parole! April 12, 2014 at 12:15 PM


Cat Wrangler April 12, 2014 at 12:17 PM

I wonder how the psychiatric analysis of his state of mind at the time of the murder of an innocent nurse could be determined fitting the definition of insanity when he admitted faking a seizure?

May God bless and comfort the innocent victim’s family during this most sorrowful time.

ClayDen April 12, 2014 at 12:19 PM

She got the death penalty; he should too. The fact that he was insane and killed someone should require that he be locked up for life with no possibility of parole at the MINIMUM.

Cat Wrangler April 12, 2014 at 12:22 PM

So, does he now go to a Psychiatric Facility where he can terrorize the nurses there, too? I seem to recall other nurses being killed recently in horrific way in Napa facilities. What a difficult and dangerous job for those who chose a caring profession.

Suzie April 12, 2014 at 1:15 PM

He wanted to stay in prison. What else could he say, his true twin did it? Put him in the psych ward away from the nurses so they could open a little window and look at him to see how well he is doing. Scumbag!

The Realist April 12, 2014 at 2:11 PM

Put him down. It’s the most humane thing to do. It will save grief, money and future society.

anonanonagain April 12, 2014 at 2:52 PM

Plea deal?? It is truly sickening that someone found guilty of murder can barter for a lighter sentence. Shameful. Life has no value in our deplorable world…..

Antler April 12, 2014 at 2:56 PM

Lethal injection.

Anonymous April 12, 2014 at 3:33 PM

“Lets hope this young man gets the help he needs this time around”

Did someone really say that ?

Clayton Resident 1980 April 12, 2014 at 4:09 PM

The legal system is obviously a## backwards! He’s a criminal and a.murderer and should receive a life sentence at the very least. My must sincerest condolences to the victim and the victims family. I hope they find peace somehow, someday..

Former Law-Guy April 12, 2014 at 4:18 PM

#7: The judge did not come up with this sentence. The DA and Public Def struck a plea bargain. #3: Voluntary Manslaughter is a violent felony, so he will have to do 85% of his sentence before he is eligible for parole.

If the defendant had been found Not Guilty by reason of Insanity, he could have been out of hospital such as Napa within 2-3 years. Each side had something to lose, so they struck a plea bargain. Happens often in strange cases like this.

Fig Newton April 12, 2014 at 10:30 PM

he should never get out! Lame court system!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Rose Garden April 12, 2014 at 11:30 PM

There’s nothing scarier than the criminally insane.

My thoughts and prayers are with the victims family. Very sad.

nameless April 12, 2014 at 11:35 PM

Only 12 Years!? Inexcusably light sentence given the circumstances

Wit-Sec April 13, 2014 at 1:13 AM

Maximum sentence for Voluntary Manslaughter is 11 years.

Maximum sentence for Use of a Deadly Weapon is 1 year.

Total = 12 years.

Wit-Sec April 13, 2014 at 1:21 AM

He is required to serve 85% of the 12 year sentence due to it being a violent felony.

Unfortunately, if he’s considered most like to have been insane at the time of the murder… he may do it again without regard to human life.

Anderson April 13, 2014 at 9:39 AM

And after 12 years, then what? The only real justice here is that he’s likely to do something else during that time and get a lengthened sentence, probably as long as he continues to live.

For someone this far gone there isn’t going to be any “rehabilitation”. He isn’t going to “get better”. Wake up, sheeple.

No justice. April 13, 2014 at 4:59 PM

So at 50 or less he will get out? And kill again? Imagine if it was your wife or mother he killed. Daughter. Now if he gets out in 6 and kills again. It might be one of your loved ones or you? So he killed a nurse. 12 years. What if was a cop? This is complete bull and I have no clue what they are thinking? Life without parole. Unprovoked cold blooded murder? 12 years? I know a guy who got life on 3 strikes for theft. Wow.

jon smith April 13, 2014 at 9:52 PM

Having worked in Law Enforcement in this county for several years, this isn’t a surprise. Contra Costa County is TERRIBLE when it comes to prosecution. The DA either doesn’t file cases or has people plead out to much lesser offenses to keep the conviction rates high. If someone gets arrested for a crime, if the DA doesn’t file, it doesn’t affect the conviction rate. If the person commits a felony and pleads out, it still counts as a conviction. The DA’s office is so understaffed and unprepared. Usually when people reject a plea offer, the next offer is more time..not in Contra Costa County. They offer less time. It’s frustrating, but true. Things that aren’t filed in this county are felonies in other counties and the DA there follows thru. 12 years? Im sure the first offer was 20 years and the DA lowered the offer to just have the case go away. It really is a slap in the face to the nurse’s family. My condolences……hopefully someday things will get fixed, but its been this way ever since I started working here XX years ago

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