Murder Trial of Cristian Santa: A Case of Forensic Evidence

Murder Trial of Cristian Santa: A Case of Forensic Evidence

Forensic evidence and testimony by tell a bloody tale of drinking, sex and violence

Murder Trial of Cristian Santa: A Case of Forensic Evidence
by Sarah Cortes

Day 1 of Forensic Testimony- Wednesday, December 7- Superior Court

Judge Christine Roche presided over the trial, which commenced Nov 22 in Superior Court. Cristian Santa, now 25, is charged with the first degree murder of John Barrientos, 50, who was allegedly stabbed and beaten to death between 4:50 and 5:20am on May 4, 2012. Peter Marano is defense counsel and Assistant District Attorney Zachary Hillman is prosecutor. Cristian Santa pleads not guilty to the charge. He sits with an interpreter, who translates the proceedings for him. He wears glasses and stoops over, silently. Occasionally he turns around to look at his family.

The victim was stabbed over 100 times with multiple instruments. His teeth were pulled out with pliers. Blood was splashed all over the walls, floors and even the ceiling in a basement apartment at 220 Chelsea Street. The victim was then dragged upstairs and left in the back alley. Police found the body at 6:55am. Both victim and defendant were from Columbia. Santa was linked through a friend he called for a ride at 5:38am from the scene. He was arrested two days later while playing pool at a pool hall.

Forensic evidence featured prominently in the case. First to testify was Kevin Kosiorek, Criminalist IV at Boston Police Department Crime Laboratory Unit. ADA Hillman conducted his direct examination. He testified as to leucocrystal violet enhancement of numerous bloody footwear impressions, left by the defendant in the victim’s blood. He brought with him numerous pieces of evidence in their original bags. He wore gloves and took the evidence out of the bags when asked. He testified about numerous shoes and demonstrated how he made a match to the defendant’s shoes which were left in the sink at the defendant’s home in Revere. He ruled out several other possible individuals. He further testified to the entire crime scene processing.

Kosiorek brought several visual aids, including photographs. The scene was horrifically grisly. A great number of very graphic photos were displayed of the victim’s body, the bloody boiler room, and the bloody entrance to the unit. Kosiorek also had a large hardback poster showing the layout of the crime scene in detail, with all evidence markers. He also brought a lot of notes. He referred to his notes frequently, with the judge’s permission. He testified when his memory was exhausted. After about an hour, the ADA concluded his direct examination.

Defense counsel then cross-examined Kosiorek for quite a while. He elicited testimony as to whether Kosiorek had ever committed an error processing a crime scene. Marano challenged Kosiorek on failure to collect blood samples from several areas of the boiler room, where the crime is alleged to have taken place. Marano brought up several other men who apparently lived in the apartment from time to time with the victim, Barrientos, trying to raise reasonable doubt and cast them as possible suspects that Kosiorek and chief homicide Det. McLaughlin had inadequately investigated. Kosiorek kept his composure. He refused to allow defense counsel to box in his answers, and answered fully to questions. Defense counsel raised numerous questions regarding adequate processing, and other possible crime scenarios based on blood evidence.

Next testifying was another criminalist who graduated from the Boston University Medical School’s Forensic Sciences Master’s degree program (about four years ago.) He testified about processing DNA samples. He also brought several visual aids, including photographs. He also brought a lot of notes. He also referred to his notes frequently, with the judge’s permission. He testified when his memory was exhausted. He also handled an aggressive cross-examination professionally.

Next testifying was criminalist Deborah Ann Kosiorek, also a criminalist IV Boston Police Department Crime Laboratory Unit. She started testifying about fingerprints. She brought several visual aids, including photographs. She started with a lengthy explanation of how she uses the ACE-V method to process fingerprints. There were 28 (photos of surfaces plus gel lifts) +34 (recovered from objects removed from the scene for evidence) fingerprints recovered from the scene. She also brought a lot of notes. She also referred to her notes frequently, with the judge’s permission. She testified when her memory was exhausted. However, after a brief sidebar conference, court was unexpectedly dismissed for the day at 3:20pm.

The defendant’s family and friends attended. The victim’s family and friends were also present. Court took several breaks. In the hallway, numerous informal conferences were held with victim’s family and also defendant’s family. The judge’s clerk indicated the outcome of the case seemed uncertain.

Day 2- Thursday, December 8- Superior Court

In the morning, Deborah Ann Kosiorek continued her testimony. She brought visual aids. Marano cross-examined her. He was successful in eliciting testimony regarding the inadequacy of her ACE-V method. He established that her lab has another fingerprint technician confirm her work, but that technician knows her conclusions before he starts. Also, that she knows the comparison prints before she starts. Both of these were cited in the Pcast report as reasons that fingerprint identification scientific studies show error rates to be as high as one in seven in the field. Marano also elicited testimony that she has made errors in the past, and that verifiers had found she incorrectly identified prints. Kosiorek, like all her other fellow expert witnesses, was very professional. Nevertheless, she was visibly defensive about several points. This seems to be a universal human reaction. And, a credit to the defense attorney, who was trying his hardest to elicit their defensiveness.

Kosiorek’s testimony was interrupted with testimony from the BPD sergeant Mun who processed Santa’s original fingerprints. Then chief homicide Det. McLaughlin testified regarding other possible suspects and why he had not adequately investigated them. After Kosiorek resumed, Marano concluded his cross-examination.

Next, Marano called Santa’s mother to the stand. He conducted direct examination. She cried the whole time. She had an interpreter and seemed to have very limited english. She testified that ashe and Santa, her only son, lived together in Revere, along with her boyfriend. And that they both worked three jobs, she as a waitress, and he as a busboy and delivery person. Marano elicited testimony that Santa “preferred women” as his sexual orientation. That they came to the US from Columbia when he was six years old with his father. That they all returned to Colombia when Santa was 12. That they returned to the US eight years ago, minus the father. She testified that Santa picks her up after work at night and helps her close the restaurant. That he has never had any conflict with anyone. During a brief recess, Santa’s mother collapsed semi-sitting in a corner of the tiny ladies room, weeping. Another family member consoled her.

After the recess, testimony resumed. Santa’s mother testified that the morning after the murder, Santa took a two-hour shower and seemed very upset, but assured his mother everything was fine. She testified that he is proud of his green card and despite his limited English, tries to speak English every chance he can. And, that he needs glasses but often refused to wear them. Marano appeared to be setting up an explanation that the victim had solicited sex from Santa. His mother provided no explanation for the crime.

Court was again unexpectedly stopped early in mid-testimony. Tomorrow the ADA will cross-examine Santa’s mother. The bailiff ordered, “All rise!” and the jury left. After a brief discussion, the judge also filed out.

After Judge Moreno and the jury were out of the room, Santa took off his glasses and put them away in a case. In his booking photo, he is not wearing glasses. The bailiff cuffed his hands and legs, and he filed out. Tomorrow, after his mother finishes, he will testify. Then, closing arguments will be made and jury instructions provided.

Day 3- Friday, December 9- Superior Court

Today ADA Hillman wrapped up cross-examination of Santa’s mother. Then Cristian Santa took the stand. All morning we heard graphic detail about how he went from bar to bar drinking the night of May 3, 2012, then to a snack place about 2am after 1am bar closing, then met the victim, John Barrientos, on the sidewalk, for the first time. Santa admitted he agreed to go home with him around 2:30am because Barrientos stated there were girls there drinking who would have sex with both of them (for free). And, Santa claimed, because Barrientos claimed to know his grandfather. Although Santa had never met nor heard of Barrientos in his life, in the tight-knit Columbian immigrant community. They walked a block or two to Barrientos’s home.

Once there, Santa testified, remembering great detail, that there were no women yet, so Barrientos suggested they wait and play videos on a laptop. He claimed Barrientos brought him alcohol drinks in shot glasses, which he claimed Barrientos prepared out of sight in the kitchen. The implication being, Barrientos slipped Santa a rufie drug. However, crime scene photos contradicted that testimony, as tequila bottles were found only in the basement boiler room where Santa testified they did all the drinking.

“Cheers!” Santa testified Barrientos said to him as he served him, a peculiar and vivid detail, in comparison to his later claims to a lack of all memory with respect to Barrientos’ death. Santa claimed he passed out and woke up on a bed in a different bedroom, with his pants down, being raped anally. He claimed to have passed out and come to five times, been raped three times between 3am and 4:50am, and that his hands and feet wouldn’t move, so he was helpless. Then he finally regained movement and claimed Barrientos both tried to pull his pants down again, hit him and also tried to prevent him from leaving. Santa claimed he got in a struggle where the two men fell on the floor, out of fear of being re-raped, stopped struggling when he noticed Barrientos stopped moving. He then claimed he left left and called a friend for a ride, who took him home. He claimed he had no idea if Barrientos was alive when he left. He was arrested two days later at a pool hall. All the testimony took hours and hours with Santa sobbing and not answering for long long pauses.

ADA Hillman took over cross-examination. He asked Santa point-blank if he killed Barrientos. Santa demurred and then said he didn’t remember. ADA Hillman then showed three of the most horrific and bloody graphic photos of Barrientos corpse ever seen. Dozens of knife and other puncture marks covered his head and body, with different tools and implements, on all sides of his head, and all over his body, in little groups of cuts and holes. He went over and over Santa’s previous testimony and pointed out his many lies to police when he was caught, and his excellent memory of detail.

Once again, Santa took off his glasses the minute the jury and judge were out of the room, before and after several recesses and breaks. He also forgot to wait for the interpreter and displayed a surprising command of unaccented English, as did his mother, who also addressed other members of her party in the hall in excellent English.

Cross-examination was suspended about 3:50 pm, and will resume Monday.

Day 4- Monday, December 12- Superior Court

The DA opened by announcing he had finished his cross-examination. Defense Attorney Marano on redirect lingered on the details of the defendant’s alleged anal rape by the victim, playing up courtroom drama and playing on the jury’s emotions.

In closing arguments, Marano went first. He dwelt again and again on the details of the alleged rape, and played up that his client was the real victim. He repeatedly showed the grisly pictures of the victim, apparently to desensitize the jury. However, it was previously testified the victim had been married with children and had been divorced due to having affairs with other women. There was no evidence that he was had any history of sexual preference for other than females.

The big impact of the day was the DA’s closing argument. In addition to pointing out further inconsistencies in the defendant’s story, he reminded the jury the time of death was fixed at between 4:50am and 5:20am, at the time the upstairs neighbor heard four loud thumps from the basement below in Barrientos’s apartment, during his morning shower. The DA produced the defendant’s cellphone records. In them, the DA reviewed numerous calls made by the defendant to his friends between 3am when he left the sandwich shop with Barrientos and arrived within five minutes at Barrientos’ apartment, and 4:50am when the thumps were first heard.

Apparently the defendant was calling trying to get his friends, including a female and a male, to join them drinking in the basement boiler room, and in the hopes of having sex. This is the same period of about two hours when the defendant claimed to have been raped three times and blacked out five times. The victim was found to have a blood alcohol level of .30 and was incapable of rape. Indeed, he appears to have been completely incapacitated as no marks or wounds were inflicted on Santa at all. The defendant placed over a dozen calls at approximately 15 minute intervals during the two-hour period when he claimed the rape occurred, yet he testified his arms and legs were not working during the rape and he was incapacitated and could not call 911. He called his friend to pick him up at 5:38am.

No mention was made of the wrench found near the body which apparently might have been used to beat in the victim’s skull. Nor of the bloody pliers and teeth found pulled out and left on the kitchen floor. Near the end of the argument, the DA provided his theory of the case: Santa had murdered Barrientos in a fury when no women materialized at his home after an hour and a half.

Closing arguments were wrapped up by 12:15pm. After a break, the judge provided the charge and detailed jury instructions, and the jury went to deliberate.

Day 5- Tuesday, December 12- Superior Court

After only four hours of deliberation, the jury returned a verdict. They rejected the first-degree murder charge and found the defendant guilty of voluntary manslaughter. Apparently they did not believe the forensic evidence. Sentencing will occur Friday.

Other reading on the case:

Rocheleau, Matt, Revere man charged in slaying in East Boston; Victim reportedly stabbed 80 times. Boston Globe, May 6, 2012.
https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2012/05/06/revere-man-face-murder-char...

John R. Ellement and Martin Finucane, Evidence at slaying scene is linked to Revere man. Boston Globe, May 6, 2012.
https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2012/05/07/bloody-fingerprints-match-s...

Ellement, John R., Cristian Santa charged with murdering John Barrientos in East Boston, Boston Globe, May 7, 2012
http://archive.boston.com/news/local/massachusetts/2015/09/28/cristian-s...

Sources: Victim Stabbed Nearly 100 Times, Teeth Pulled; Cristian Santa Charged With Homicide, WCVB, May 7, 2012
http://www.wcvb.com/article/sources-victim-stabbed-nearly-100-times-teet...

Remal, Gary J. , Police charge Revere man in fatal East Boston stabbing, Boston Herald, May 7, 2012 http://www.bostonherald.com/news_opinion/local_coverage/2012/05/police_c...

Lynds, John, Revere Man Charged for Murder in Eastie. East Boston Times-Free Press, May 10, 2012 http://www.eastietimes.com/2012/05/10/revere-man-charged-for-murder-in-e...

East Boston Murder Suspect to Be Arraigned. NECN, Feb 26, 2014 http://www.necn.com/news/new-england/_NECN__East_Boston_Murder_Suspect_t...

Priyanka, Ketkar, 2012 East Boston slaying update: Jury selection begins, Nov. 21, 2016,
http://boston.homicidewatch.org/

Bauter, Alison, Santa in Boston Court Tuesday, Accused of 'Grisly' Murder, Boston Patch, Nov. 22, 2016 http://patch.com/massachusetts/boston/santa-boston-court-tuesday-accused...

Bauter, Alison, Santa in Boston Court Tuesday, Accused of 'Grisly' Murder, Boston Patch, Dec. 13, 2016 Santa Found Guilty in Grisly East Boston Murder
http://patch.com/massachusetts/boston/santa-found-guilty-grisly-east-bos...