Dal­las man sen­tenced to 99 years for starv­ing kids

Austin American-Statesman - - METRO & STATE - By Jeff Carl­ton

DAL­LAS — A Dal­las man con­victed of starv­ing three chil­dren locked in a ho­tel bath­room for nearly a year was sen­tenced to 99 years in prison Tues­day af­ter ju­rors heard tes­ti­mony that one child was sui­ci­dal and an­other pre­ferred uri­nat­ing in his hos­pi­tal bed to en­ter­ing a re­stroom.

The youngest vic­tim, a 6-year-old boy whose head barely peeked over the wit­ness stand, told ju­rors he liked the hos­pi­tal where he was taken af­ter be­ing res­cued from the squalid ho­tel along a busy Dal­las high­way in July 2009. “I got to eat,” he said. The jury sen­tenced Al­fred San­ti­ago, 38, hours af­ter they con­victed him of in­jury to a child and con­tin­u­ous sex­ual abuse. Pros­e­cu­tors had asked for a life sen­tence. San­ti­ago’s at­tor­ney had asked for 25 years, the min­i­mum al­lowed un­der the sex abuse con­vic­tion. San­ti­ago also was fined $20,000.

Af­ter the sen­tenc­ing, San­ti­ago told the judge he would ap­peal.

“God knows I am not guilty of these charges,” he said.

The chil­dren were ema­ci­ated when they were found last sum­mer. Their ribs and spines showed through flaky skin, and the old­est child, an 11-year-old girl, told au­thor­i­ties that she had been re­peat­edly sex­u­ally as­saulted.

The youngest boy, then 5, weighed less than 30 pounds — about the weight of a healthy 2-year-old. Pic­tures of the chil­dren were pinned above the wit­ness stand through­out the trial.

Dur­ing the sen­tenc­ing hear­ing, the boy de­scribed San­ti­ago beat­ing him with broom­sticks and belts. Ju­rors also heard from the chil­dren’s ther­a­pist, who said the old­est boy has been hos­pi­tal­ized three times for be­ing sui­ci­dal.

“He wor­ried that he would have to go to hell be­cause he could not for­give Al­fredo,” Dr. Ashley Lind said.

An­other doc­tor, Matthew Cox, said two of the chil­dren were ter­ri­fied of the bath­room. One, who had suf­fered brain at­ro­phy re­lated to chronic star­va­tion, pre­ferred uri­nat­ing in his hos­pi­tal bed to go­ing into the bath­room. The same child gained 22 pounds in less than two months in the hos­pi­tal, thanks to a healthy diet.

Tes­ti­fy­ing in his own de­fense a day ear­lier, San­ti­ago re­peat­edly de­nied sex­u­ally as­sault­ing the girl, beat­ing her broth­ers or deny­ing the chil­dren food. He said he made them break­fast and lunch ev­ery day and it wasn’t his fault the chil­dren re­fused to eat.

San­ti­ago also said he could not ex­plain why he told in­ves­ti­ga­tors he awoke from naps to find him­self hav­ing sex with the girl. He could not re­call telling po­lice that, he said.

Pros­e­cu­tor Eren Price told ju­rors in her clos­ing ar­gu­ment that the case was about iso­la­tion, hope­less­ness, suf­fer­ing, tor­ture and star­va­tion.

“Mostly, the ev­i­dence in this case has been about evil,” Price said. “These kids thought they were go­ing to die in that bath­room.”

San­ti­ago’s de­fense at­tor­ney, Richard Car­riza­les, blamed the chil­dren’s mother, Ab­neris San­ti­ago, for deny­ing them food and sug­gested the tes­ti­mony about beat­ings and rapes was un­re­li­able.

Each of the three chil­dren have dif­fer­ent fa­thers. Al­fred and Ab­neris San­ti­ago, who share a last name but were not mar­ried, have a daugh­ter who was 1 when they were ar­rested. She was healthy.

Ab­neris San­ti­ago’s trial is sched­uled to be­gin to­day.

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