Judge won’t toss evidence in case where teens were killed in garage

Victor Santana, shown at an appearance in Montgomery County Common Pleas Court. STAFF

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Victor Santana, shown at an appearance in Montgomery County Common Pleas Court. STAFF

A judge has ruled that prosecutors will be allowed to use the interrogation of a defendant conducted during an investigation into two teenagers who were fatally shot last year in a Dayton garage.

Montgomery County Common Pleas Court Judge Timothy O’Connell said in a ruling that Victor Santana, 64, understood enough English to waive his Miranda rights before two interviews with police.

“Based on the testimony, (evidence) and the court’s review of the audio/video, the court finds that Victor Santana was advised of his Miranda rights,” the ruling says. “The defendant is an adult, and he was sober at the time. He indicated that he understood his rights. He signed a pre-interview form. The evidence is convincing that Miranda warnings were given before questioning began.”

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Santana is accused of killing 17-year-old Dayton residents Devin Henderson and Javier Harrison and firing at a third teenager who survived on Aug. 28.

Montgomery County Prosecutor Mat Heck Jr. said the boys 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.

Santana is charged with four counts of murder, five counts of felonious assault and one count of attempt to commit murder.

In a suppression motion, Santana’s attorney, Michael Pentecost, a public defender, argued that the interviews shouldn’t be allowed in court because Santana didn’t understand his rights or the questions posed to him.

“Despite a clear language barrier, Santana was interrogated for approximately 35 minutes before he asked for a lawyer,” the motion says.

The motion says Santana was again interrogated a couple of months later with a Spanish-speaking person present, but because Santana had requested a lawyer during the first interview, the second interview should be tossed too.

Santana has asked that an interpreter be present at his court hearings, citing that while he is an American citizen, Spanish is his native language. The defense argued that Santana told detectives that he understood about 70% of what they were saying.

But O’Connell said in his ruling said he believes Santana did understand enough English to make a decision whether he wanted to speak with police.

“The case is somewhat complicated because the defendant really does not speak fluent English,” O’Connell said in his ruling. “But, he does speak a kind of broken English. One can make out some of the factual-type material after listening to him. It requires a great deal of concentration and attention, but it can certainly be done. Descriptions of situations by him when understood reveal that he knows some English.”

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The judge also said that he didn’t believe Santana was forced into speaking with police.

“The interrogation sessions were not particularly intense. The detectives did not press the defendant. The detectives asked generally open-ended, non-leading questions. The defendant was not hesitant to talk. There were no raised voices. There was no came calling. The atmosphere did not become adverse in nature. There was no mistreatment. There was no physical deprivation,” the ruling said.

A Montgomery County Prosecutor’s Office spokesman told the Dayton Daily News that the office is “very pleased with the court’s ruling, and believe it is sustained by the facts and circumstances in this case.”

A request for comment from the defense attorney was not immediately returned Monday.

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