Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal
Thirty days behind bars.
That’s the sentence a District Court judge in Albuquerque handed a teenager who fatally shot a man in the middle of a crowded West Side park in 2018.
Judge Cristina Jaramillo could have ordered Santiago Armijo, 17, held in a juvenile detention center until he turned 21, but she said she was opting for treatment over incarceration. In addition to ordering him held for 30 days, she sentenced Armijo last week to supervised probation until he is 21 for shooting and killing Larry DeSantiago, 25. As part of the sentence, Armijo will be required to speak at high schools about what he did and the consequences of those actions.
During a sentencing hearing Thursday, Jaramillo speculated that early intervention by Armijo’s family might have prevented the tragedy.
“But a life was taken, and we have to recognize that there should be consequences for that,” she added.
As to those consequences, Jaramillo told DeSantiago’s family that her “hands were tied” because the maximum sentence she could impose would be four years in juvenile detention – because of the laws in place for youthful offenders.
“I can only do so much, but, whatever I do, it will not bring back Larry,” she said. “It will not heal your hearts or the hole that’s left in your hearts. There’s nothing that I can say or do that will help that.”
Judith DeSantiago, the victim’s sister, decried the sentence, calling it a “slap in the face.”
“It devalued human life and allowed our younger generation to see that it’s OK to commit a crime, because they won’t be held accountable for their actions anyway,” she said. “It also demonstrated why this generation is acting out in our community the way they do, and that’s because our juvenile laws in the state cater to them.”
Prosecutors had asked for the maximum sentence after Armijo pleaded to charges of second-degree murder, tampering with evidence, one misdemeanor count of unlawful possession of a handgun and conspiracy to commit armed robbery.
Michael Patrick, a 2nd Judicial District Attorney spokesman, said prosecutors are weighing their options but plan to ask Jaramillo to reconsider her decision.
The murder happened around 5 p.m. on March 1 at Tower Pond Park, near Tower and 82nd SW, when the area was bustling with families and children.
Witnesses told police they saw DeSantiago chase Armijo and Jeremiah De La Pena to the top of a hill before Armijo shot him in the chest and said “that’s what you get.” DeSantiago died at the hospital soon after, and the two teens were arrested in a nearby neighborhood. Officers found the gun in De La Pena’s jacket and the teen said they had found it at a party weeks before.
Armijo was 15 at the time and De La Pena was 16.
De La Pena has also pleaded in the case but has yet to be sentenced.
Thursday’s proceedings were largely closed to the media, but the Journal obtained a recording of the sentencing hearing.
Prosecutor Natalie Strub argued that Armijo showed a disregard for human life before the shooting, as defense attorney Monnica Barreras questioned DeSantiago’s actions and claimed the teen acted out of fear while under the “bad influence” of De La Pena.
Strub shared text messages exchanged between Armijo and De La Pena a few days before the homicide, in which the teens talked about setting up and robbing someone.
She said the text messages, along with Armijo saying “that’s what you get” showed the boys’ “lack of care.”
Strub said she understands the focus for children is on rehabilitation, not incarceration, but the charge is serious.
“This isn’t a drug possession or a car theft. This is the most serious charge, taking the life of another person,” she argued. “… Four years for taking the life from a family that will never get to see a 25-year-old man grow up. It’s not justice, but it’s something, and that’s what the state’s asking for.”
Barreras said the case is “no doubt a tragedy,” but DeSantiago – a much larger man with a criminal history – was drinking at the time, had threatened the boys and was “closing distance” on them before Armijo shot him.
“Santiago (Armijo) did have a genuine fear at the moment,” she said.
Barreras also argued that Armijo had no criminal history or school referrals and was hanging around with De La Pena – “an extremely bad influence”
Barreras, who didn’t respond to requests for comment from the Journal, said in court that Armijo was found to be amenable to treatment and a doctor “strongly recommended” he go through therapy rather than any commitment which, would not be in “the best interest of the child.”
“This is a very difficult, unique, case because you have a child who was on the wrong path. Exhibiting his teenage puffery in text messages, hanging with the wrong crowd, looking like he needed a change in course,” the defense attorney argued. “This has completely done that, judge, he is a different person.”
Barreras said that in the 21 months since the shooting, Armijo has enrolled in online classes, is working full time and plans to enlist in the Army. She said removing Armijo from his goals, his family and putting him behind bars would “take him from that path.”
The family of DeSantiago also addressed the court.
“What happened to us on March 1, 2018, was a tragedy. It took a piece of our hearts that we will never get back,” Judith DeSantiago, his sister, said through tears.
She acknowledged that her brother had “run-ins” with the law but said he never hurt anyone, describing him as a kindhearted and compassionate person. Judith said going through the investigation and court proceedings has been like “a scab being pulled off over and over again.”
“The only thing our family wants right now is closure, we want justice to be served, and the only one that can help us with that is you, your honor,” she said. “Whatever decision you make today we will have to come to terms with. Hope it’s a decent enough sentence.” When it was Armijo’s turn, he told Judge Jaramillo he has changed.
“I’ve come a long way on my road to maturity… A more responsible, respectful individual,” he said, before addressing DeSantiago’s family. “I’m sorry for the pain that I have caused your family, as well as mine. I hope that this small, honest, testimony about me helps you in any way, shape or form, to find it in your heart to give me a second chance to make a difference in life.”
Jaramillo said she recognized Armijo’s drug use at a young age “clearly impacted his impulsivity” and, although she was unsure about what led up to the murder, she believed it was not premeditated.
The judge pondered what the “happy medium” would be in the case while acknowledging that there must be consequences.
“I agree with the family that this has got to stop, children carrying weapons and killing people has got to stop some way or the other and I think you’ll be instrumental in getting this done,” Jaramillo told Armijo. “Who else can tell a kid who’s right on the edge – how it’s going to be – but you?”
She ordered him to speak at high schools about his experience, once every semester, to warn other kids not to end up like him – or worse.
“I just sentenced somebody yesterday to 15 years in prison for a shooting after a disagreement. It doesn’t bother me to do that, but the laws are limited,” Jaramillo said. “And if I only have four years left, I would rather have you four years in treatment so that when you are an adult you can be an asset to this community rather than a drag on this community.”
But the judge ordered Armijo to turn himself in by Dec. 23.
“He’s not spending the holidays with his family, just as Larry’s not spending the holidays with his family,” Jaramillo said.