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Santiago v. State

Court of Appeals of Maryland

March 27, 2018


          Argued: October 5, 2017

          Circuit Court for Charles County Case No. 08-K-04-000477.

          Barbera, C.J., Greene, Adkins, McDonald, Watts, Hotten, Getty, JJ.


          GETTY, J.

         In this case, we are asked to determine whether the trial court erred in admitting the expert opinion testimony of Allen Hagy ("Mr. Hagy"). Additionally, we must determine whether the trial court erred by admitting evidence of Respondent Isa Manuel Santiago's ("Mr. Santiago") silence during an investigation by his automobile insurer.

         For the following reasons, we conclude that the trial court did not err in admitting the expert testimony under Maryland Rule 5-702(3). We also hold that the trial court did not err when it admitted Mr. Santiago's failure to submit to an examination under oath for his voluntary automobile insurance claim as evidence of Mr. Santiago's consciousness of guilt because the admission of this failure was relevant. Accordingly, we affirm the judgment of the Court of Special Appeals.


         A. The Murder and Investigation

         During the morning of Friday, June 13, 2003, LaToya Taylor ("Ms. Taylor") told a coworker that during her lunch break she was going to meet with someone who owed her money. Security camera footage captured Ms. Taylor leaving her employment in Washington, D.C. and stepping into a "box-type black truck." Ms. Taylor did not return from her lunch break. The security footage was the last record of Ms. Taylor seen alive. Six days later, Ms. Taylor's body, wrapped in trash bags and with a single gunshot wound to the back of her head, was found in a field in Charles County, Maryland.

         In the early morning hours on Saturday, June 14, 2003, police were called to a vehicle fire on Spring Road in Northwest Washington, D.C. Police officers found a black Jeep Cherokee, registered to Mr. Santiago, engulfed in flames at the scene. Police officers also discovered a gasoline container next to the Jeep Cherokee. William Walker ("Mr. Walker") told police that he witnessed a car that stopped next to the parked Jeep Cherokee and saw a man exit the car on the passenger side. The man then walked "up to the" Jeep Cherokee and "either went in or was at the car door." Mr. Walker stated that the Jeep Cherokee "eventually caught on fire" and the other vehicle then sped off. Following an investigation, police concluded that the fire had been intentionally set with the use of gasoline. Additionally, the investigation established that the ignition of the Jeep Cherokee had not been tampered with which led police to the conclusion that the Jeep Cherokee must have been driven to its location by using the vehicle's key.

         At approximately noon on June 14, 2003, Mr. Santiago contacted police and reported that his Jeep Cherokee had been stolen. Lieutenant Robert Black, a Prince George's County police officer, interviewed Mr. Santiago at his home about the stolen vehicle. Mr. Santiago stated that he had returned to his home from a nightclub at 3:00 a.m. and had parked the Jeep Cherokee on the street near his residence. Mr. Santiago recalled that he did not notice his Jeep Cherokee missing until he took the trash out. During the interview, Lieutenant Black noted that Mr. Santiago was in contact with his automobile insurance agent and that Mr. Santiago's trash cans were still located inside the home.

         During the investigation into Ms. Taylor's disappearance, police acquired information that led them to believe Mr. Santiago was involved. Ms. Taylor and Mr. Santiago had an extensive and turbulent relationship. Kimberly Smith ("Ms. Smith") recounted that Ms. Taylor and Mr. Santiago met as teenagers. Although they never married, Ms. Taylor and Mr. Santiago were romantically associated for approximately a decade prior to Ms. Taylor's disappearance. Ms. Smith would later testify that Mr. Santiago and Ms. Taylor's lengthy relationship included acts of domestic violence perpetuated by Mr. Santiago. At the time of her death, Ms. Taylor had a civil action pending against Mr. Santiago in which she sought child support. Mr. Santiago disputed paternity in this matter and later told police officers "his wife did not know he was the father of [Ms. Taylor's] youngest child" although Mr. Santiago asserted that "they [Ms. Taylor and Mr. Santiago] had resolved the child support issues." A court hearing to resolve the child support issues had been scheduled for June 18, 2003.

         Detective Charles Seward spoke to Mr. Santiago about Ms. Taylor's disappearance on the evening of June 14, 2003. Mr. Santiago stated that on the morning of Ms. Taylor's disappearance, he and Ms. Taylor had spoken on their cellular phones. Mr. Santiago contended that the conversation between the two related to the child support hearing. After this call with Ms. Taylor, Mr. Santiago stated that he took a nap until the early afternoon, ran errands with his wife, went to dinner with his wife in Baltimore, and then headed to a nightclub in Washington, D.C. following dinner. During the interview, Mr. Santiago asked Detective Seward to speak quietly because Mr. Santiago's wife was sleeping and she disliked overhearing discussions about Ms. Taylor because the three were involved in a "love triangle."

         Other evidence contradicted Mr. Santiago's version of the events on the date of Ms. Taylor's disappearance. Mr. Santiago's children's daycare provider would later recall that at 4:27 p.m., Mr. Santiago called and told the daycare that he would not be able to pick up his children due to an emergency. Mr. Santiago's wife would later retrieve the children. Surveillance video from a Bank of America branch in Prince George's County showed that Mr. Santiago used the bank's ATM at 4:31 p.m. The surveillance video also showed Mr. Santiago exiting his black Jeep Cherokee.

         John Naumoff ("Mr. Naumoff") stated that at approximately 5:38 p.m., he saw a dark Jeep Cherokee emerge from a forested area close to where Ms. Taylor's body was found in Newburg, Charles County. Because Mr. Naumoff worked as a service manager at a car dealership, he was able to confidently identify the car as a Jeep Cherokee. He was also able to specify the time when he had seen the dark Jeep Cherokee because Mr. Naumoff's E-ZPass clocked in at a nearby toll booth. Mr. Santiago called a friend, Chiquita Jenkins ("Ms. Jenkins"), at approximately 5:50 p.m. At trial, Ms. Jenkins testified that she believed Mr. Santiago was travelling in a car while they spoke on the phone.

         At about 7:30 p.m., Mr. Santiago and his wife stopped by the home of his friend, Paris Jefferson ("Mr. Jefferson"), even though Mr. and Mrs. Santiago knew Mr. Jefferson was not home. The Santiagos visited with Mr. Jefferson's son for approximately thirty minutes before departing. Mr. Jefferson's home was located on Spring Road in Northwest Washington, D.C. Jamal Wilson ("Mr. Wilson") stated that he had seen Mr. Santiago at around 3:27 a.m. on June 14, 2003, outside of a bar in Northwest Washington, D.C. Mr. Wilson testified that Mr. Santiago was riding a motorcycle at that time.

         Although Mr. Santiago's Jeep Cherokee was badly damaged in the fire, police were able to find grass fragments within the undercarriage of the vehicle which were consistent with grass found in the field where Ms. Taylor's body was found. Additionally, police recovered carpet fibers on Ms. Taylor's clothing which matched the automobile carpet fiber samples from the Jeep Cherokee.

         At trial, the State's theory was that Mr. Santiago killed Ms. Taylor on June 13, 2003 after he used the ATM in Prince George's County at 4:31 p.m. and before the 5:50 p.m. call to Ms. Jenkins. In support of its timeline, the State planned to introduce Mr. Santiago's cell phone records from June 13, 2003 to show that Mr. Santiago was located in Charles County at the approximate time of Ms. Taylor's murder.

         B. First and Second Trials

         On May 25, 2004, the State indicted Mr. Santiago in the Circuit Court for Charles County for the murder of Ms. Taylor and other crimes associated with the murder. Mr. Santiago's first trial ended in a mistrial on February 28, 2006 prior to any evidence being presented. Mr. Santiago's second trial began the next day, March 1, 2006. During this trial, the jury acquitted Mr. Santiago of first-degree murder but convicted him of second-degree murder, use of a handgun in the commission of a crime of violence, and being a felon in possession of a firearm. Following sentencing for these convictions, Mr. Santiago noted an appeal. The Court of Special Appeals, in an unreported opinion, reversed the judgment of the trial court due to the failure to either hearken or poll the jury. Santiago v. State, 183 Md.App. 770 (2008). The State filed a petition for writ of certiorari, which this Court granted. State v. Santiago, 407 Md. 529 (2009). In our decision, we held that "a jury verdict, rendered and announced in open court, that is neither polled nor hearkened is not properly recorded and is therefore a nullity" and we remanded the case to circuit court for a new trial. State v. Santiago, 412 Md. 28, 32, 42 (2009).

         C. Third Trial

         The State, on remand, charged Mr. Santiago with first-degree murder in addition to the same charges for which he was convicted in the 2006 trial. Mr. Santiago filed a motion to dismiss the first-degree murder charge, arguing that the re-charging was a violation of double jeopardy. The circuit court denied the motion, and Mr. Santiago appealed the judgment. In March 2013, the Court of Special Appeals held that, although the 2006 jury verdicts were nullities due to the failure to hearken or poll, the acquittal of first-degree murder barred re-prosecution. Santiago v. State, 210 Md.App. 708 (2013). The State did not file a petition for writ of certiorari.

         In 2015, the prosecution presented its case for a third time and a jury in the Circuit Court for Charles County convicted Mr. Santiago on all remaining counts. The circuit court sentenced Mr. Santiago to a thirty-year prison term for second-degree murder, a twenty-year consecutive prison term for use of a handgun, and a five-year cumulatively consecutive prison term for illegal possession of a firearm. The collective prison term totaled fifty-five years. Mr. Santiago appealed his conviction to the Court of Special Appeals, which unanimously affirmed the judgment ...

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