The man serving a life sentence for murdering 28-year-old Jeff Santiago as he lay wounded on the floor of a Chelsea strip club in 2008 will not receive a new trial, Suffolk County District Attorney Daniel F. Conley said this week.
The Supreme Judicial Court on Tuesday issued a decision affirming the 2010 first-degree murder conviction of Jesse Camacho, 28, of East Boston in Santiago’s shooting death and the non-fatal shootings of another man and an employee of King Arthur’s Lounge after a physical altercation prompted by an associate of Santiago.
Among his arguments on appeal, Camacho claimed that the trial judge wrongly barred evidence of prior bad acts committed by Santiago and his associates as he attempted to prove at trial that he acted in defense of his associates. The court ruled prior bad acts evidence is admissible when the identity of the first aggressor is in question; here, it was undisputed that a member of Santiago’s group prompted the altercation.
The justices found no error.
“Given this largely undisputed evidence, the primary question for the jury was not who began the altercation or escalated it to deadly force, but rather whether the defendant was legally entitled to use the force that he did in defense of another,” the justices wrote.
Additionally, the justices found no evidence to suggest that Santiago was involved in the altercation that preceded the shooting but instead left the group minutes before the melee and was shot as he attempted to flee from the gunfire.
Camacho argued jurors should have been instructed to consider returning a conviction on the lesser offense of manslaughter, arguing that they could have found Camacho acted in the heat of passion or shot the victim accidentally. The justices found no merit to the argument.
The justices also found that prosecutors did not unduly prejudice Camacho in vividly describing Santiago’s final moments while advocating for the jurors to find Camacho acted with extreme atrocity and cruelty.
The justices additionally found Camacho was not due post-conviction discovery regarding gang affiliations of Santiago and his associates as there was not evidence to suggest that such gang ties exist, much less that such information would have impacted the outcome of the trial. Prosecutors provided all the requested discovery prior to trial, including information on the affiliation of the individual who instigated the fight at the bar – the only member of the Santiago’s group with known gang ties.
During a two-week trial in 2010, prosecutors presented evidence and witness testimony to prove that Camacho and Santiago were present at King Arthur’s Lounge in Chelsea with two separate groups of associates on Jan. 25, 2008. A member of Santiago’s group struck a friend of Camacho over the head with a bottle, prompting a physical altercation between the groups. Video evidence and witness statements proved that Santiago had separated from his friends minutes before the altercation began and was not involved.
During the fight, Camacho pulled out a .45 caliber semiautomatic handgun and began firing. Santiago attempted to flee the bar amid the gunfire but was struck in the leg and fell to the ground. Camacho then fired on Santiago twice more as he chased others from the bar, the evidence showed. Santiago was struck in the chest and back and died of his injuries.
A member of Santiago’s group and a bouncer each suffered non-fatal gunshot wounds in the altercation.
After the shooting, Camacho fled the county and was captured in Mexico City in October 2008; he was returned to the United States the following March with the assistance of the State Police Violent Fugitive Apprehension Section, the U.S. Marshal’s Service, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the U.S. Department of State, and the Mexican Agencia Federal de Investigación.
The case was prosecuted at trial by First Assistant District Attorney Patrick Haggan – then the DA’s chief trial counsel. Assistant District Attorney Zachary Hillman of the DA’s Appellate Unit argued the case on appeal. Camacho was represented on appeal by Elizabeth Billowitz.