Jesus Silva-Santiago

On the night of June 28, 2003, 25-year-old Eugene Monteiro and four friends attempted to enter Mike’s Lounge, a bar in Brockton, Massachusetts.  They were denied entry because one of them was underage. As they stood outside the bar, a Hispanic man wearing a red shirt said to them: “No niggers allowed.”

Monteiro, who was black as were his friends, replied, “What’s your problem?” The man ran away and returned to confront Monteiro, who asked the man if he had “toast” (street slang for a weapon). The man raised his shirt, drew a handgun and as Monteiro tried to flee, nine shots were fired. Monteiro was hit three times and collapsed on the street in front of the bar where he died moments later.

Monteiro’s friends, McKenzie Bruneau, Raymond Jenkins, Thomas Johnson, and David Thomas, scattered. The bar was two blocks from a Brockton police station and officers were on the scene in less than a minute. When the shooting stopped, Bruneau, Jenkins and Johnson returned to the bar. Bruneau told police that as he came back, he saw a man whose face he could not see running down an alley next to the bar. Bruneau said the man wore “white sneakers with a red check.”

Bruneau told police the man who confronted them outside the bar looked “Spanish or Cape Verdean” and was wearing “some type of . . . red shirt, some red and white sneakers, all white with red checks on it [and] dark blue jeans." The gunman also wore a red headband and a long gold chain, Bruneau said.

Johnson told police the gunman wore a red and white shirt, a red bandana, and red and white sneakers, and had short hair and a mustache. Jenkins said the shooter wore a red headband, a red shirt, jeans, and a gold chain.

A woman who was stopped at a red light nearby saw part of the shooting. She was unable to describe the gunman’s face, but said that he appeared to be black, slim, and about 5 feet 10 inches tall; had short hair; and wore “baggy clothes” that included a red shirt and blue jeans.

Police immediately locked down the bar, preventing anyone from entering or departing. They brought Bruneau and Johnson inside and asked them if they recognized anyone as the gunman. When both men said they did not—even though only two males in the crowd of about 40 people wore red shirts—they were escorted out.

Police then allowed the customers to leave one by one and each was searched for a weapon. The process was video-taped by police. No weapon was ever recovered.

On July 7, 2003, after studying the video, police determined that one of the customers in the bar, 28-year-old Jesus Silva-Santiago, fit the description of the gunman because he was Hispanic and wearing a red shirt. Officers showed photographic lineups to Bruneau, Johnson and Jenkins which included Silva-Santiago’s photo.

Johnson, police said, pointed to Silva-Santiago and said he was the “most similar” to the gunman, but that he could not positively say Silva-Santiago was the shooter.

Bruneau, according to police, pointed to Silva-Santiago and said, “That looks just like the guy” and when asked if that meant Silva-Santiago was the gunman, said, “Yes.”

When Jenkins was shown the photo lineup, he said Silva-Santiago “looks the most familiar.”

Based on the identifications, police arrested Silva-Santiago and charged him with first-degree murder. Officers confiscated a pair of white sneakers bearing a red Nike swoosh and a red shirt made by Ecko, an urban lifestyle clothing associated with hip-hop culture. Gunshot residue and blood tests on the shoes and shirt were negative.

Silva-Santiago went on trial in Plymouth County Superior Court in the summer of 2006. Only Johnson made an in-court identification. Johnson testified that he had made a positive identification when shown the photo lineup. He said he could not recall being unsure and was impeached with his grand jury testimony in which he admitted he had been unable to say positively that Silva-Santiago was the gunman.

Bruneau testified to what he told police at the time he viewed the photo lineup: “I said I recognized the shooter but I told them I had a glance. I didn’t really see his face but I had got a glance at the man. And I had . . . told them that number seven looked like—a lot like the shooter.”

Jenkins testified that he was shown the photo lineup and was asked if anyone looked familiar. He said he replied, “Yeah, I guess so. I mean, yeah, I said, ‘Yes.’”

Silva-Santiago did not testify. A customer at the bar who knew Silva-Santiago testified that he saw Silva-Santiago talking with three girls inside the bar when the shots were fired.

On June 16, 2006, a jury convicted Silva-Santiago of first-degree murder which carried an automatic penalty of life in prison without parole.
 
In 2009, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts reversed the conviction and ordered a new trial because of improper conduct by the prosecutor. During closing argument, the prosecutor attempted to explain why the witnesses had failed to identify Silva-Santiago when they went into the bar after the shooting.

The prosecutor had said, “Doesn’t it make sense that maybe, just maybe, they weren’t in a position, given their frame of minds, to calmly look around the bar that had about thirty-five, forty, forty-five people in it to try to make an identification? Doesn't it make sense that even if they did, even if they saw everybody in the bar and saw the shooter, they were maybe too scared to identify him, given what they had just seen?”
 
The court ruled that there was no evidence that the witnesses were in fear and that it was improper for the prosecutor to imply they were.
 
Silva-Santiago went on trial a second time in 2010. His new defense attorney, John Amabile, questioned the three eyewitnesses carefully about the photographic lineups conducted by the police, and showed how uncertain they were at that time.

Attorney Amabile also examined Bruneau and Johnson about their observations at the bar right after the shooting. He specifically asked each of them "Was the person who shot your friend in the bar?" and each said No – despite the fact Silva-Santiago was in the bar when those two witnesses went in there with police officers and was one of only two men in the bar wearing a red shirt.

In addition, at the second trial Johnson said he was certain the gunman was not wearing an Ecko shirt – the type of shirt seized from Silva-Santiago. When shown Silva-Santiago’s red Ecko shirt, he testified that it was not the shirt worn by the killer.

On August 12, 2010, the jury acquitted Silva-Santiago and he was released. He later filed a lawsuit seeking compensation, but it was dismissed. The Massachusetts State Supreme Judicial Court upheld the dismissal in May 2014.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 10/6/2013
Last Updated: 5/22/2014

 

State:Massachusetts
County:Plymouth
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2003
Convicted:2006
Exonerated:2010
Sentence:Life without parole
Race:Hispanic
Sex:Male
Age:28
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No