A Miami man — identified by witnesses because of his distinctive cross tattoos, one on each cheek — is guilty of murdering a Liberty City couple in 2006, a jury decided Wednesday.
Benito “Bo” Santiago, 23, was convicted of two counts of first-degree murder for the fatal shootings of Grace Armstrong, 27, and Adrian Johnson, 28.
Prosecutors said Santiago got into an afternoon fight with Johnson outside a market on Jan. 28, 2006. Moments later, Santiago left and returned with an AK-47, opening fire in the middle of the street in front of horrified witnesses.
The jury deliberated about two hours. Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Ellen Sue Venzer will sentence Santiago in October.
Santiago, 17 at the time of his arrest, faces life in prison. He is not eligible for the death penalty because he was a minor at the time of the shootings.
Before the summer, Venzer would have quickly issued a mandatory life sentence under Florida law. But in June, the U.S. Supreme Court barred mandatory life prison terms for juveniles convicted of homicides, saying that judges should consider the age of the offender in meting out a sentence.
For Miami-Dade prosecutors Kathleen Cortes and Rebecca DiMeglio, the case was not a slam dunk. There was no physical evidence tying Santiago to the crime, and he did not confess to detectives.
But the prosecutor did have two compelling eyewitnesses.
The couple’s then-10-year-old daughter, Adriana Johnson, witnessed the fight and the gunfire. Now 16, she told jurors Tuesday that she remembered Santiago from the neighborhood because of the crosses tattooed on each side of his face.
Another witness, Patricia Wilcher, also identified Santiago and said that she knew the teen because she had allowed him to sleep at her house for a time.
But defense attorney Alan Greenstein insisted that eyewitness testimony is unreliable. And he said that Wilcher never housed Santiago during the months before the shooting because the teen was living in New York at the time.