Acting Essex County Prosecutor Carolyn A. Murray announced today that an Essex County jury convicted Luis A. Santiago, 44, of Newark of 20 counts, including kidnapping and multiple counts of aggravated sexual assaulting for attacking his 26-year-old neighbor.
After deliberating over three days, the jury returned a verdict late today finding Santiago guilty of dragging his neighbor into his apartment and repeatedly sexually assaulting her for more than 30 minutes.
Assistant Prosecutor Celeste M. Montesino tried the case before the Honorable Joseph Cassini, 3rd, J.S.C. Immediately following the verdict the judge revoked Santiago’s $250,000 bail. Santiago remains at the Essex County Correctional Facility where he has been housed since the brutal attack. The case was delayed originally to determine whether the defendant was competent to stand trial.
On Feb. 17, 2008, Santiago and the victim were living on the 3rd Floor of a rooming house on Milford Avenue in Newark. They shared a bathroom. The victim testified that when she rented the room she was not aware that anyone else was living on the third floor. The victim had moved into the rooming house just weeks before the sexual assault.
On the date of the attack the victim woke up to use the bathroom. As she was leaving the bathroom Santiago approached her and grabbed her breast and buttocks and told her he wanted to have sex with her, using an expletive.
She was able to get back to her room and called the police. Newark Police responded and cautioned the defendant but did not make an arrest at that time. The next morning the victim thought she could safely make her way to the bathroom.
As she was exiting the bathroom, the defendant grabbed her, punched her in the face, choked her and sexually assaulted her in the hallway before dragging her into this apartment where he repeatedly sexually assaulted her, threatened to kill her and bit her hand. The victim testified that she fought hard, and scratched his neck as he choked her. She recalled grabbing at a small pipe attached to the wall to prevent him from dragging her into his room but the pipe detached from the wall.
When the sound of someone coming into the building talking on a cell phone on speaker distracted the defendant, the victim used the opportunity to break free. Nude with her robe hanging off of her body, she ran downstairs and pleaded with a resident for help but he told her he didn’t want to get involved. She then ran outside tried to flag down passing cars but no one would respond. She eventually started banging on doors and ringing doorbells until neighbors took her inside and called the police.
Santiago was arrested without incident at the scene, with scratches visible around his neck. He was apparently cleaning up the apartment where the sexual assaults occurred when police arrived. In addition to the victim’s testimony and other witnesses, DNA linked Santiago to the sexual assaults.
When he is sentenced on Sept. 20, Santiago faces 15 to 30 years on the kidnapping along with additional time for the aggravated sexual assault.
Prosecutor Murray commended Essex County Prosecutor’s Office Lt. Janine Straccamore and Detective Christine Witkowski of the Special Victims Unit for their outstanding work as well as Newark Detectives Mariano Quiles and Antonia Rosa.