The following is part three of a series involving a 2014 New Mexico double murder trial. I look forward to your responses to this case and discussing the court system process in America. –
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Reasonable Doubt Part 3
Ronald Santiago spent two and one half days in the psychiatric ward at Kaseman Hospital while Secret Service (SS) agent Brian Nguyen began to dig into the self-proclaiming criminal’s past. Santiago had volunteered he committed a crime, was very anxious and gave more information than asked for at their first meeting. This combination gave the agent cause to look deeper. At first glance, Santiago seemed like your standard straight up guy. He told Nguyen he had no prior trouble with the law, held down two jobs – a paid his taxes type fellow. Those jobs peaked Nguyen’s curiosity.
Santiago worked at Countrywide, the same office that had dealings with Greg and Bernadette Ohlemacher the summer of their deaths. He also worked as an armed security guard in the northeast foothills of the city. Although individually, these jobs would appear innocuous, nearly every law enforcement agency was aware of the double homicide ten months earlier. Nguyen put the pieces together, including the discovery that Santiago qualified for his NM state firearms license required to work that second job with a Ruger 9mm. It was time to have a different type of conversation with Santiago.
Agent Nguyen contacted the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) and began to collaborate with major crimes unit detective, Michael Fox. He then called Kaseman to request Santiago agree to speak with him and Detective Fox. Dr. Robert Coberly agreed, provided his patient was willing. In the late evening of June 14, 2006, the doctor medically cleared Santiago so Nguyen and Fox spent the better part of two hours interviewing their person of interest.
In a confusing and contradictory discussion, Santiago admitted to knowing the Ohlemachers and even recalled they were murdered on a Tuesday, August 2, 2005, ten months prior. Santiago answered all questions, though he did express his prescribed medication affected his memory.
Law enforcement got the following from Santiago –
- • A Ruger 9mm P-85 series was the first pistol he ever owned.
- • The Ruger was “in a lock box in the garage.”
- • He was either at home or at the gym at 5:15am the morning of the murders.
- • Remembered the murders happened on a Tuesday because “I watched the news.”
- • His boss, Jason Pike told him the following day about the killings.
- • Jason Pike never twice told him to go to APD to help with any information.
- • Santiago had been to the Ohlemacher’s home three times, the last being mid-May.
- • He later changed his last visit to mid-July, 2005.
- • The Ohlemacher’s loan was denied in May, well before their deaths. “I told them they, we couldn’t do the loan.”
- • Santiago explained to the Ohlemachers they could only refinance for $147K due to a bankruptcy. “Mr Ohlemacher was pissed. Very upset.” (The outstanding original loan was in excess of $160K).
- • He gave them contacts outside Countrywide that offered higher risk loans.
Throughout the interview, both Nguyen and Fox were concerned that Santiago kept changing the subject away from the Ohlemacher killings, a term known as redirecting. He also engaged in what the agent called “fishing,” whereby the subject asks questions in order to get information from an interrogator. This took place when Fox left the room. According to Nguyen, this occurred because Santiago felt more comfortable with the agent versus the detective and believed he could elicit information from him if they were alone.
The two interrogators denied they were told they had only 45 minutes to talk with Santiago, but the charge nurse came into the room after time was up. She agreed to see if Dr. Coberly would extend the interview, which he did. Nguyen was adamant on the witness stand he would have postponed the whole thing if a time limit applied. Later in the trial, the defense would argue Santiago was too heavily medicated to be completely coherent and his demeanor proved it according to the video recording. Regardless if Santiago signed a release, he was hospitalized and in no condition to conduct that conversation, an allegation Dr. Coberly denied during his testimony. In addition, the doctor explained the hospital administrative attorney in order to legally protect the institution had imposed the time limitation, but either of them could extend that limit.
Soon after, Santiago was placed under arrest and jailed. He plead guilty to forgery and received time served and five years probation. Regardless of a potential connection between the Howard case and the Ohlemachers, none of this would be presented in court. Prior bad acts are not admissible in New Mexico.
Next installment we will tackle the trial itself – the charges, the strategies and why it took nearly nine years to seat a jury.