Prosecutor: Self-defense doesn’t apply for Dayton property owner

Man charged with murder in death of two teens in his detached garage.

A 63-year-old man suspected of shooting and killing two teens on his West Dayton property nearly three months ago was charged Thursday with murder, attempted murder and felonious assault.

The indictment comes after months of public outcry by some for an arrest and criminal prosecution and after questions about self-defense laws.

Victor Santana, who owned the home at 848 Conners St., was indicted by a Montgomery County grand jury for fatally shooting 17-year-old Dayton residents Devin Henderson and Javier Harrison and firing at a third teen who survived.

Santana, who was arrested Thursday and incarcerated at the Montgomery County Jail, faces four counts of murder, one count of attempted murder and five counts of felonious assault related to the Aug. 28 shootings.

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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 the Conners Street residence, where they went to smoke marijuana.

The boys broke the law by trespassing, Heck said, but lethal force cannot be used against people who are only committing that offense.

He also said recent changes to Ohio’s self-defense laws did not change the fact that deadly force can only be used in self-defense, defense of another or defense of a person’s home or occupied vehicle.

“When the Legislature amended the law in self-defense, it did not give people the right to just shoot anyone on their property,” Heck said.

In the nearly three months after the fatal shooting of Harrison and Henderson, the teens’ family, friends and other community members on many occasions have publicly called for the shooter’s arrest and prosecution.

Relatives and community members took part in multiple protests and weekly vigils outside the Conners Street home.

The home was destroyed by a suspected arson late last month, which happened not long after someone spray painted the word “murder” on the front of the residence.

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Santana faces two counts of murder for each victim, and the attempted murder charge is for the third teen who survived, 19-year-old Jashin Gibson, said John Amos, assistant Montgomery County prosecuting attorney, with the violent crimes bureau.

During the shooting, Gibson got out of a vehicle in Santana’s garage and hid under the car and then was able to escape, Amos said. He returned to the scene after police arrived and was arrested and later held on a probation violation.

“He’s cooperated fully with the investigation and will be a victim and a witness at a subsequent trial,” Amos said.

Henderson was struck twice by gunfire in his back, while Harrison was hit in the back and the thigh and left forearm, according to autopsy records.

If convicted, Santana faces 18 years up to life in prison for each of the murder charges, which have additional penalties related to firearm specifications, Amos said. He has no criminal record, prosecutors said.

Santana has residences elsewhere, including California and Mexico, Amos said, adding prosecutors will ask for a high bond.

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Heck on Thursday said his office and investigators never rush to judgment, and a complete and thorough investigation and review of the facts was completed before the case was presented to a grand jury.

Heck said the evidence shows that Santana does not have a reasonable claim of self-defense for shooting and killing the teens.

Harrison, Henderson and Gibson were in the back of a vehicle in a detached garage about 42 feet from Santana’s home to smoke marijuana, Heck said.

The teens believed the property was abandoned because part of it was boarded up, there was no electricity or lighting in the garage, Heck said, and there’s no evidence they were there to do anything else, like commit other crimes.

Heck said there have been nearly 1,000 trespassing cases in the city of Dayton since the start of 2018.

He said just imagine what the homicide tally could be if residents were allowed to shoot and kill others just for unlawfully being on their property.

“The newly amended self-defense law by the legislature does not create an open season on trespassers,” he said.

People should call the police if they suspect there are trespassers on their property, and the teens who were killed were not breaking into a house or an occupied car, Heck said.

Since the shooting, this closely-watched case has raised questions about whether recent changes in Ohio’s self-defense laws could come into play and impact prosecution or any outcome if it went to trial.

From the outset, Dayton police Chief Richard Biehl pointed out that changes in Ohio law switched the burden of proof from defense attorneys to prosecutors in self-defense cases.

Defendants used to have to prove they acted in self-defense. Now, Biehl said, prosecutors have to prove they did not act in self-defense.

But Heck said the evidence shows that self-defense does not apply in this case.

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