Bail of $1M upheld in death of Glouco witness

Richard Santiago served six years for killing the witness' boyfriend in 2004.
Richard Santiago served six years for killing the witness' boyfriend in 2004.
Posted: March 06, 2013

A recently released ex-convict fatally stabbed a witness 15 times in December because she had testified against him, a Gloucester County assistant prosecutor told a judge Monday.

Ramona Johnstone's role as a witness in Richard Santiago's 2006 trial - in the 2004 slaying of her former boyfriend - "is the reason he killed her" on Dec. 17, seven months after his release, Assistant Prosecutor Laurie Cimino said, arguing against reducing Santiago's $1 million bail.

The revenge scenario was one Johnstone had feared, her sister Rainy DePaulis said Monday. She said she was not surprised by the prosecution's assertion, but asked why authorities had not notified Johnstone of Santiago's May 6 release after he served six years in the killing of Richard King.

Under state law, only victims of certain violent crimes and their families are electronically notified of an inmate's release or transfer.

But, said DePaulis, "my sister is dead and it could have been prevented if they had just let us know that he was out. I just feel let down."

Johnstone's killing has helped spur legislation sponsored by State Sen. Donald Norcross (D., Camden) and Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D., Bergen) that would require witnesses and others deemed appropriate by the judge or prosecutor to also be notified.

"It's just so heartbreaking that somebody who steps up and does the right thing pays the price for it," Norcross said Monday.

In the bail hearing, Superior Court Judge M. Christine Allen-Jackson upheld Santiago's $1 million bail on murder, weapons, and hindering prosecution charges, saying it "is an appropriate amount under the facts and circumstances," according to the Prosecutor's Office.

Allen-Jackson cited the 60-year-old Santiago's prior convictions, including for larceny and heroin possession in the 1970s, and the aggravated assault conviction after Johnstone's testimony in 2006.

Santiago stabbed King, 44, of Mantua, to death during a fight outside Johnstone's apartment at Woodbury Court Apartments, where Santiago also lived.

He served six years of a nine-year sentence for that crime. The sentence had required him to serve at least seven years, but he was given credit for time he spent in jail before his trial.

Johnstone, 54, had been watching a football game on television when the fight between the men broke out. King stumbled back into her apartment, bleeding from stab wounds, and later died.

In court, Cimino said that video surveillance from the apartment complex showed "a person believed to be Santiago" entering her unit on Dec. 17 carrying a red bag. The man was also captured on video walking on Broad Street in Woodbury, Cimino said.

She said Santiago's daughter-in-law, who lives in Woodbury, told investigators that he showed up unexpectedly that day, saying he had to a catch an 8 p.m. bus.

The next day, a Camden surveillance camera showed Santiago carrying a red bag, which was recovered and is being tested for DNA.

"Maybe even a year ago, she was still talking about him," DePaulis said.

She acknowledged, however, that her sister had not shared her fears with authorities after Santiago's trial.

Bernie Weisenfeld, a spokesman for the Gloucester County Prosecutor's Office, said Monday that neither the prosecutor nor the trial aide or the victims' witness coordinator handling the case had ever "heard any expression of concern" from Johnstone.

Weisenfeld earlier said protection could have been offered had the authorities learned of a threat.

Under current law, a prosecutor's office notifies the state attorney general's office - which maintains an electronic database of victims and their families - of the person to be contacted pending an inmate's release or transfer.

Prosecutor Sean F. Dalton supports the proposed changes, Weisenfeld said Monday.

Last month, Norcross' bill was combined with Weinberg's in the Law and Public Safety Committee. Her measure would require witnesses to sexually violent crimes also to be notified.

The combined bill is now in the Budget and Appropriations Committee.

"You can't run your life in fear, but you certainly can be aware," Norcross said.

Weinberg could not be reached Monday.

Santiago remains in state prison on a probation violation unrelated to King's killing.


Contact Darran Simon at 856-779-3829 or at dsimon@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @darransimon.

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