Judge orders omnibus hearing next week for Santiago

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Joseph Santiago, the Carroll County man

accused of killing his autistic older brother

in January 2017, appeared briefly on Monday

in Carroll County Circuit Court in Berryville.

Santiago, 19, is charged with capital murder

in the death of 21-year-old Alex Santiago

on Jan. 17, 2017.

Santiago underwent a court-ordered mental

evaluation on Feb. 13, one day after his

defense attorney filed a motion to dismiss a

previous defense motion that asked for the

evaluation. Prosecutors responded by filing

a motion to proceed with the evaluation and

Carroll County Circuit Judge Scott Jackson

ordered Santiago to attend the evaluation

and scheduled Monday’s hearing to hear arguments

on the opposing motions.

The psychologist who interviewed Santiago

reported that he was fit to stand trial.

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


At Vantage Point, according to Stiler’s

report, Santiago was diagnosed with “severe

compulsive depression” and placed on


“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.”

On Monday, public defender Robert

“Beau” Allen said he would like to reserve

any argument with respect to the mental

evaluation, and Jackson said he intended to

grant the state’s motion.

“I think that’s the proper avenue for the

evaluation to be accepted,” Jackson said.

Allen also indicated that the defense intends

to file motions related to discovery issues.

Jackson instructed him to present those

issues in writing and scheduled an omnibus

hearing for 1 p.m. Monday, March 5, at the

Carroll County Eastern District Courthouse

in Berryville.

Santiago, whose parents were seated on

the front row of the Berryville courtroom on

Monday, entered the courtroom with four

other inmates from the Carroll County Detention

Center. He sat alone on the back row

of the jury box, whispering quietly with an

inmate seated on the front row.

When his case was called, Santiago

joined Allen and returned Jackson’s greeting,

saying “Good afternoon, your honor.

How are you?”

Santiago was handcuffed and shackled

at the waist and feet, wearing an orange jail

jumpsuit. After his hearing was complete,

he was quickly escorted from the courtroom

by Carroll County Sheriff’s Office investigator

J.J. Reddick.

In addition to the capital murder charge,

Santiago also is charged with attempted

capital murder and arson. Those charges

apparently stem from a fire at the family’s

home in April 2016. Santiago told CCSO

investigators that he locked his brother in

his room and poured gasoline on the floor

before setting the home on fire, according

to a probable cause affidavit. The affidavit

also says Santiago admitted to killing Alex

Santiago with a baseball bat and sword.

Santiago was 17 at the time of his brother’s

death, but prosecutors have said from the

outset that they intend to try him as an adult.

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