Psychologist: Santiago fit for trial in brother’s death

Friday, February 23, 2018

Joseph Santiago is fit to stand trial for the death of his autistic brother, according to the opinion of a psychologist who conducted a court-ordered evaluation of Santiago on Feb. 13.

Santiago, 19, is charged with capital murder in the Jan. 17, 2017, death of 21-year-old Alex Santiago, who was killed in a mobile home in the Grandview community northwest of Berryville. An affidavit from the Carroll County Sheriff’s Office says Joseph Santiago admitted to investigators that he killed his brother with a baseball bat and sword.

Santiago is also charged with attempted capital murder and arson. Those charges apparently stem from a fire at the family’s home in April 2016. Santiago told investigators that he locked his brother in his room and poured gasoline on the floor before setting the home on fire, according to the affidavit. The affidavit indicated that Alex Santiago was autistic.

Santiago underwent the mental evaluation on Feb. 13 despite a motion filed the previous day by public defender Robert “Beau” Allen asking Carroll County Circuit Judge Scott Jackson to dismiss a previous motion, also filed by the defense, that asked for the evaluation. Prosecutors responded by filing their own motion asking that the evaluation proceed as scheduled. In an order issued the same day, Jackson instructed Santiago to attend his scheduled appointment and set a hearing for 1 p.m. Monday, Feb. 26, in the courtroom of the Carroll County Eastern District Courthouse in Berryville to hear arguments on the issue.

The report filed by the Arkansas Department of Human Services’ Division of Mental Health Services says that based on an examination by Dr. Benjamin F. Stiler, an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, Santiago lacked a mental disease or defect, had the capacity to effectively assist his attorney in his own defense and had the capacity to understand the proceedings against him.

The report indicated that Santiago suffers from severe Major Depressive Disorder, currently in full remission, as well as mild Cannabis Use Disorder and moderate Alcohol Abuse Disorder.

During his interview with Stiler, Santiago “described himself as ‘a loner’ and stated he ‘just never connected that well’ with his family because ‘I just didn’t really want to connect,’ ” the psychologist says in his report. “Consequently, he felt like ‘there was a rift between us.’ He felt like he ‘lacked intimacy’ and ‘compassion’ with others. He believed (he) was an introvert who preferred a solitary lifestyle and only use(d) ‘a facade’ to ‘deal with life.’ ”

Santiago told Stiler that he had been overweight and was picked on by other students at school, according to the report. He said he first received treatment for anger when he was in the fourth grade and that the treatment lasted about a year. When Santiago was 16, the report said, he was treated at Youth Bridge for about a year, initially for anger and then for depression.

According to Stiler’s report, Santiago attempted to commit suicide by overdosing on Xanax and cutting his wrist 10 days before “the alleged offense.” After receiving medical treatment, Santiago told Stiler, he was treated for 10 days at Vantage Point in Fayetteville.

At Vantage Point, according to Stiler’s report, Santiago was diagnosed with “severe compulsive depression” and placed on medication.

“He reported that, when he felt depressed, he felt an ‘emptiness, just completely hopeless, no self-worth, feel no sort of confidence whatsoever. I guess I feel hopelessly alone, just very void of any emotion at all.’”

Stiler’s report says that the officer who transported Santiago to the evaluation told the psychologist that “a couple months prior to the evaluation, the jail had been alerted that he had made some suicidal statements in an email he wrote.”

Stiler reported that Santiago was alert and calm during the evaluation and “denied any current homicidal or suicidal ideation.”

Santiago told Stiler that he began smoking marijuana when he was 13 and first drank alcohol when he was 12, according to the report.

Stiler’s report says Santiago had an accurate understanding of the legal system and the proceedings against him.

“He provided correct answers to nearly all of my questions without education,” Stiler writes. “The only areas he required education on were plea bargains and minimum sentencing guidelines. Because he was educable and was able to retain new information I provided, I believe he has the capacity to learn and retain new information presented by his attorney as well.”

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