REMEMBER THE climactic scene from The Verdict, wherein lawyer Frank Galvin (Paul Newman) speaks to the jurors about justice, hoping they’ll know it when they see it?
“And there is no justice,” Galvin laments. “… We become tired of hearing people lie. And after a time, we become dead, a little dead. … We become weak. We doubt ourselves, our beliefs, our institutions. And we doubt the law.”
You tell me, folks, what would justice look like for one Paul Santiago? Mr. Santiago resides at the High Desert Prison near Indian Springs but is hoping his stay is much shorter than the sentence imposed by District Judge Kathleen Delaney. Judge Delaney simply could not stomach the idea of giving probation to someone who’s been kissed and coddled in the warm embrace of the legal system for so long. So she threw the book at him. Was it just?
On Christmas Day 2004, Mr. Santiago was working as a licensed nurse at the Montevista Hospital psychiatric facility and was assigned to the adolescent unit. According to police and the court, Santiago played a despicable game with Kody, a 10-year-old girl who’d been placed into the hospital by the foster-care system. While her eyes were covered with gauze, he tricked Kody into playing “the chocolate game.” He put something into her mouth, but it wasn’t a piece of chocolate.
Eight-and-a-half years later, Kody is still waiting for justice for the man who stole her innocence, ruined her young life and still haunts her dreams. But by almost any definition, the legal system failed her and has allowed a predator to continue to spew his perversions in the direction of other vulnerable victims.
The simple fact is, Santiago should never have been allowed to work in a psychiatric hospital — or any hospital — and had absolutely no business being around children. He was already a convicted, registered sex offender who had served three years in California for assault with intent to commit rape. He didn’t try to hide his past from Montevista. The hospital hired him anyway.
The Nevada Nursing Board was also aware that Santiago was a sex offender, but gave him a nursing license nonetheless. The board — which has artfully dodged numerous opportunities to comment about Santiago — took a closer look at him in 2005, but did nothing. Even after the sexual assault on Kody, Santiago was hired to work at the state psychiatric hospital, where he remained for more than three years before being allowed by the board to voluntarily inactivate his nursing license.
The conviction in California and the allegations in the Montevista case are hardly the only times Santiago has been accused of acting like a sexual slimeball. While he worked at a blood lab in 2012, three women said he had sexually assaulted them. He pleaded those charges down to a count of open and gross lewdness, to which Santiago entered a guilty plea. Sentencing is set for July.
How could he have been allowed to hold a Nevada nursing license for all of these years, and why has it taken so long to put him on trial for the horrific crime he perpetrated on a scared little girl in 2004? You tell me. Nine times, his scheduled jury trials were canceled or delayed. He changed lawyers. He accused Kody of being a habitual liar, a tactic that is not exactly original and which looks even more ridiculous in light of the burgeoning number of women who say they too were victimized.
In 2011, it finally looked like Santiago would face the music. The DA’s office negotiated a deal in which Santiago would enter a “no contest” plea and be given probation. The judge in the case, Don Mosley, rejected the deal because, in his opinion, there was enough evidence to “convict this fellow over and over.” Fast forward to 2013 — another deal was presented to Judge Delaney. She looked it over, then warned Santiago and his lawyers that the court was under no obligation to agree to a deal that would sentence him to probation. Everyone heard it. Everyone understood.
When the day came to sentence Santiago, she quickly rejected the plea agreement and slammed him to a 16-40 year term, the maximum. By the way, this is the same sentence Judge Mosley had in mind. It is also what had been recommended by Parole and Probation. Delaney didn’t just pull it out of her hat. The DA’s office was willing to cut a deal because of what was described as “proof” problems. I wonder if such problems popped up because of the eight-year delay in prosecuting Santiago?
His lawyers are doing the best they can with what they have. They’re complaining that Judge Delaney sandbagged them and should have given them the chance to withdraw their plea so they can ask for — get this — a new trial date. Seriously? How does someone keep a straight face while asking for a 10th trial date?
Santiago is awaiting sentencing on the lewdness charge. We know he had at least one other victim in California before he molested 10-year-old Kody. Would it have been just for Judge Delaney to give him another delay and another trial date, or did Mr. Santiago get what was coming to him?
If Kody was your daughter, what sentence would be just? You tell me.
GEORGE KNAPP is a Peabody Award-winning investigative reporter for KLAS Channel 8.