Santiago’s attorneys file flurry of motions

Friday, May 18, 2018

Attorneys for a Carroll County man accused of murdering his autistic older brother in January 2017 filed a flurry of pretrial motions in Carroll County Circuit Court on Thursday morning.

Among the 114 pages of motions are requests to transfer 19-year-old Joseph Ian Santiago’s case to juvenile court, to suppress evidence collected after what defense attorneys argue is an unlawful arrest and to bar the prosecution from showing crime-scene photos to the jury. Also included is a motion asking the court to provide defense attorneys with additional time to file more motions.

Santiago 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. Joseph Santiago was 17 years old at the time of his brother’s death but turned 18 the following month. Prosecutors have said from the outset that they intended to try Santiago as an adult.

Thursday’s defense motions all bear the signature of Patrick J. Benca, a high-profile Little Rock attorney who joined the defense team last June as co-counsel to Carroll County public defender Robert “Beau” Allen. Carroll County Circuit Judge Scott Jackson had set a deadline of Wednesday, May 16, for the motions to be filed. Each of the motions indicated that they were served to the Carroll County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office via fax on Wednesday.

Perhaps the most significant of the defense motions is the request to suppress evidence seized during a search as well as statements that Santiago allegedly made to investigators. That motion argues that Santiago was subjected to an “unlawful” arrest.

“There was no probable cause to arrest the Defendant, and his arrest was a pretext for an investigation,” the motion says. “… (T)he police failed to secure a proper search warrant and the consent to search in this case was done after the fact. Because the search in this case was unlawful, all evidence and statements obtained as a consequence of that arrest must be suppressed.”

The defense motion to transfer Santiago’s case to the juvenile division of circuit court asks for a hearing on that issue within 30 days. The motion cites a list of 10 factors that the court must consider in determining whether to transfer the case, including the seriousness of the alleged crime and the element of premeditation, aggression or violence. Other factors include the defendant’s previous history and whether there are facilities or programs available “that are likely to rehabilitate the juvenile before the expiration of the juvenile’s 21st birthday.” The motion notes that Santiago’s birthdate is Feb. 9, 1999, arguing that he should be classified as a juvenile under Arkansas law.

The defense submitted two separate motions regarding crime scene photos. The first seeks to bar the prosecution from introducing “all gruesome photographs of the scene, of the victim, or of anything else related in this manner with this matter, as well as prejudicial and inflammatory evidence, from the first phase of (Santiago’s) trial.”

“The State can simply establish the cause of death through the testimony of the medical examiner and the investigating officers,” the motion says. “In addition, Defendant is actively prepared to stipulate that (Alex Santiago) was declared dead on or about (Jan. 17, 2017), thus saving the Court, the County and the State a great deal of time and money. As a result, the photographs have lost all probative value and must be excluded pursuant to (Arkansas Rules of Evidence.”

The second motion regarding the crime scene photos seeks to have them excluded from a potential penalty phase in the event of a guilty verdict.

“At capital trials, gruesome and highly prejudicial photographs which have often been excluded during the first phase are sometimes introduced in the penalty phase,” that motion says. “In closing arguments, prosecutors then point out to the jurors the more gruesome aspects of the pictures to inspire them to an emotional and entirely unreliable sentence of death.”

The motion goes on to argue that such photographs are not relevant to establish the existence of aggravating circumstances and have no probative value, but will “arouse the jury’s hostility toward Defendant.”

Other defense motions include requests to prevent “victim impact” evidence or, alternatively, allow the defense to review such evidence before trial; to allow Santiago to appear at all court appearances in civilian clothing and without restraint; to prohibit prosecutors from referring to defense attorneys as public defenders, court-appointed counsel, “Little Rock lawyers” or “big city lawyers;” to sequester witnesses; to require investigative officers to retain their original rough notes; and to prohibit emotional displays or other “prejudicial behavior in the courtroom.”

A pretrial hearing to consider motions is scheduled for Monday, June 4, beginning at 1 p.m. in the courtroom of the Carroll County Eastern District Courthouse in Berryville. Santiago’s trial, which is expected to continue for a week, is scheduled to begin Monday, Aug. 27, at the Western District Courthouse in Eureka Springs.

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