Trial delayed for man accused of killing 2 Dayton teens in garage after defense attorney asks to withdraw

Victor Lechuga Santana
Victor Lechuga Santana

Credit: Montgomery County Jail

Credit: Montgomery County Jail

A jury trial set to begin Tuesday in a case accusing a man of killing two Dayton teenagers has been delayed after the defense attorney filed a motion to withdraw from the case.

Victor Santana’s attorney, Michael Pentecost, an attorney with the Montgomery County Public Defender’s Office, filed a motion to withdraw from the case Friday, according to court records. In it, he said there is a conflict of interest that no longer allows him to serve as Santana’s attorney.

“The undersigned counsel for Defendant, Victor L. Santana, hereby move to withdraw as counsel of record as a conflict of interest has arisen that prohibits counsel continuing as counsel for Defendant Santana,” the motion says. “Accordingly, counsel requests that the trial date presently set for June 8, 2021, be continued and that new counsel be appointed for Defendant.”

Attorneys John Amos and Kim Melnick, who are prosecuting the case, said in a statement that Pentecost represented one of the witnesses in the case less than two months ago in a misdemeanor case.

They said the state objected to the delay.

“It is frustrating, especially to the families of the deceased, that the trial has once again been delayed,” the prosecutors said. “This is made even more so because this conflict could and should have been avoided months ago. The same Public Defender has been representing the defendant for nearly two years. In addition to receiving police reports naming the lone surviving victim/witness in this homicide case, the Public Defender received notice of four subpoenas to that witness, whose name was also included in the list of witnesses.”

“The Public Defender, who informed the Court of this bizarre issue on the Friday before the trial was supposed to start, says he did not remember that this person was the victim/witness in this homicide case when he agreed to represent him just two months ago,” the prosecutor said.

“It is hard to imagine or understand how the Public Defender’s Office could do this.”

Pentecost said in a statement that the conflict in the case came to his attention on Friday.

“Immediately upon realizing that there was a conflict, we contacted the Prosecutor’s Office and the court and filed the motion to withdraw,” he said. “We serve as defense counsel on 15,000 to 20,000 cases each year, and because of this, conflicts inevitably arise. We regret that this outcome has caused further delays, but our ethical and professional obligations require that we withdraw from this case.”

The father of Javier Harrison told the Dayton Daily News Monday that the top priority for the family is to get justice, but the continued delays are frustrating.

“I just feel like everybody else’s trial is rolling and moving on and getting sentenced and it seems like it’s taking forever for the closure of this,” Jimmy Harrison said. “I just wish it would hurry up and get done with.”

The father said he thinks of his deceased son every day.

“I just wish (Santana) would accept his punishment and live with it just like we have to live with it every day.”

Javier Harrison’s brother Jason Harrison said he also wishes the case would come to a conclusion, but knows that Santana remains in jail as the case is pending.

Amanda Davis, an assistant public defender, filed a notice of counsel with the court. The court said that Santana is due back on June 21 for a scheduling conference.

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Santana, 65, is charged in Montgomery County Common Pleas Court with multiple counts of murder, felonious assault and attempt to commit murder. He has pleaded not guilty and remains in the Montgomery County Jail on $2 million bond.

Santana is accused of killing 17-year-olds Devin Henderson and Javier Harrison and firing at a third teenager in August 2019. The third teenager survived.

Javier Harrison, left, and Devin Henderson, both 17, were fatally shot Aug. 28, 2019, in a double shooting in the 800 block of Conners Street in Dayton.
Javier Harrison, left, and Devin Henderson, both 17, were fatally shot Aug. 28, 2019, in a double shooting in the 800 block of Conners Street in Dayton.

Montgomery County Prosecutor Mat Heck Jr. said the teens were shot and killed while trespassing in a vehicle in a detached garage they thought was abandoned at 848 Conners St., where they went to smoke marijuana. The garage is about 42 feet from the house.

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The trial had been postponed multiple times over the last year or so due to the coronavirus pandemic. Santana was indicted in November 2019.

The case originally was set for trial in June 2020 and then again in September 2020. The case was again set to go to trial in January but was continued after the defense cited COVID-19 as the reason why the trial should not take place at that time.

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