Santiago-Gonzalez v. State

Decision Date25 June 2020
Docket NumberNo. SC18-806,SC18-806
Citation301 So.3d 157
Parties Angel SANTIAGO-GONZALEZ, Appellant, v. STATE of Florida, Appellee.
CourtFlorida Supreme Court

Andy Thomas, Public Defender, and Megan Long, Assistant Public Defender, Second Judicial Circuit, Tallahassee, Florida, for Appellant

Ashley Moody, Attorney General, and Janine D. Robinson, Assistant Attorney General, Tallahassee, Florida, for Appellee


This case is before the Court on appeal from a judgment of conviction of first-degree murder and a sentence of death. We have jurisdiction. See art. V, § 3(b)(1), Fla. Const. The appellant, Angel Santiago-Gonzalez, pleaded guilty in 2016 to the first-degree murder of Donald Burns. At the time of the 2014 attack that resulted in Burns’ death, both men were inmates at the Reception and Medical Center (RMC), a Florida Department of Corrections facility located in Union County. Following a non-jury penalty phase proceeding, Santiago-Gonzalez was sentenced to death. For the reasons explained below, we affirm Santiago-Gonzalez's conviction and sentence of death.

The Incident and Response

Around 9:40 p.m. on the night of January 9, 2014, corrections officers responded to a disturbance in the K dormitory at the RMC. Captain William Hamilton was the shift commander that evening, and he had just completed his normal rounds, including the K dormitory, without incident. However, after finishing his rounds, Captain Hamilton heard a banging noise while talking with another officer, Sergeant Kelvin Young. Hamilton instructed Sergeant Young to investigate the source of the noise and to advise if he needed help.

The source of the banging noise was inmates who were trying to get the attention of the corrections officers and direct them to the cell where Burns and Santiago-Gonzalez were housed. When Sergeant Young reached the cell, Santiago-Gonzalez was standing inside the cell, and Burns, the victim of a brutal stabbing, was lying on the floor. Burns was also tied up, his hands and his feet both bound. Sergeant Young, who remained outside of the cell, advised via radio that he needed help. Captain Hamilton went to the cell, called for assistance from additional staff members, and notified the on-site medical personnel.

Santiago-Gonzalez had a knife in his hand that he refused to relinquish to the corrections officers until a video camera was brought to the cell to record him. A video camera was brought to the cell, and once the recording began, Santiago-Gonzalez slid the knife under the cell door. He was restrained without incident. While being escorted to a holding cell, Santiago-Gonzalez commented that he was not interested in homosexual activity. A medical assessment of Santiago-Gonzalez conducted shortly thereafter confirmed that he was uninjured.

In Burns’ cell, ligature cutters were used to remove the restraints that Santiago-Gonzalez placed on him. Lieutenant Mark Ficken, who also heard the radio calls, responded to the cell to provide assistance and brought a camera to photograph the scene. Lieutenant Ficken observed Burns’ multiple stab wounds, including a severe neck wound, and believed them to be life-threatening.

Burns was weak but communicative, and he repeatedly said that he was afraid he was going to die. Lieutenant Ficken then questioned Burns about the incident as follows:

FICKEN: Listen to me, listen to me. I need to know what happened in there.
BURNS: I got stabbed multiple times.
FICKEN: By who?
BURNS: My roommate.
FICKEN: What happened? Why did he stab you?
BURNS: I don't know.
FICKEN: How did he tie you up?
BURNS: I let him.
BURNS: I let him.
FICKEN: You let him tie you up. Why?
BURNS: I don't know.
FICKEN: Talk to me man, I need to know what happened in there.
BURNS: Tied me up.
FICKEN: He tied—
BURNS: He tried to rape me.
BURNS: He tried to rape me.
FICKEN: You let him tie you up?
FICKEN: You just said you let him tie you up, why did you let him?
BURNS: I don't know. I'm dying.
BURNS: I'm going to die.
FICKEN: They are going to work on you, man, you need to tell me what happened.
BURNS: I guess (Unintelligible)
FICKEN: Why did you let him tie you up?
BURNS: I don't know. I was a fool.
BURNS: I was a fool.
FICKEN: Were you all playing games?
BURNS: No, sir.
FICKEN: Well, then how did you let him tie you up?
BURNS: I just did.
FICKEN: What's your roommate's name?
BURNS: Santiago.
FICKEN: You all have a beef?
BURNS: No, sir. He did it out of spite.
BURNS: He did it out of spite.
FICKEN: Out of spite. Did he tie you up before he stabbed you?
BURNS: No, he tied me up and then stabbed me.
FICKEN: He tied you up and then stabbed you, huh?
BURNS: Yes, sir.
FICKEN: All right. So what I need to know though is how did he tie you up? Did he hold you down?
FICKEN: Or did you let him do it?
BURNS: He held me down.
FICKEN: Look, man, I need you to be truthful for me.
BURNS: I am.
FICKEN: He held you down and then he tied you?
FICKEN: Hey, listening to me? What is your name, man?
BURNS: Burns.
Santiago-Gonzalez Interview

About three hours after the incident, senior inspector Kevin Ortiz conducted an interview of Santiago-Gonzalez. After being advised of his Miranda rights, Santiago-Gonzalez advised that he understood his rights and wanted to discuss the incident. Santiago-Gonzalez explained that hours before the incident, he asked a corrections officer to move him into Burns’ cell to facilitate Burns helping him with his legal matters. He said that he knew Burns was in prison for committing sexual offenses against minors but that he was not concerned because he just wanted legal help from Burns.1 According to Santiago-Gonzalez, after being in Burns’ cell for two to three hours, Burns started "acting funny," and Santiago-Gonzalez started cleaning the cell. At some point, Burns touched Santiago-Gonzalez's buttocks underneath his boxer shorts, and Santiago-Gonzalez observed that Burns’ penis was erect. Santiago-Gonzalez became irate.

Over the course of several minutes, Santiago-Gonzalez formed his plan to attack Burns and ripped his bedsheet into multiple pieces. He said:

And I just, I wasn't, like, what the fuck, you know what I mean? And I said, I'm going to kill this man. I just blamed him. I wanted to tie him, I want to knock him over. I tied him up and I'm going to kill him and that's what I did. Just punch him somewhere in the eyes, somewhere in the head.

After Santiago-Gonzalez punched Burns in the head causing Burns to fall down, he tied Burns up with the torn pieces of bedsheet. One piece of the sheet was used to tie Burns’ hands together, another to tie his feet together, and another to tie his bound hands and bound feet together. Then, Santiago-Gonzalez removed a concealed homemade knife from inside a bandage that was tied to his leg. He recalled:

He [Burns] trying, he was, I just hold him down just to keep him, I punched around, all around the neck and head. I tried to stab him in the face, in the eye, heart, chest, back, and hand. I just black out, I just, I had been on psyche [sic] medication for a long time, just all my anger, everything, I just come out. I just black out. To be honest with you, I just, I don't know I just—

When questioned about his statement that he blacked out, Santiago-Gonzalez responded: "Really, I react slow. You know what I mean? I take my time and because I would like, what the fuck, and so now the mother fucker has to die, he's going to die. I just plain knocked him out and tie him up, and that's what I did."

Burns’ Medical Treatment

Burns was initially treated for multiple stab wounds in the emergency unit at RMC. Nurse Jeffrey Dukes, who helped treat Burns, observed Burns’ life-threatening wounds. Burns told Dukes that he was going to die. Due to the nature of his injuries, Burns was transported by EMS to the University of Florida Shands Hospital (Shands).

Trauma surgeon Dr. Lawrence Lottenberg treated Burns upon his January 10, 2014, transfer to Shands. Dr. Lottenberg recalled that Burns’ case was memorable because of the numerous "stab wounds all over his neck, chest, and abdomen. Succumbed numerous times in the emergency department and in the operating room and yet managed to live through all of that." Dr. Lottenberg further stated: "Well, obviously this patient had wounds in his neck, both sides of his chest, in his abdomen. He had all of the stab wounds in his back. This patient was at an extreme level of pain and discomfort and required all of the aggressive support with pain medicine that we could give him."

Burns’ Death and Autopsy

Burns lived for nearly six months after the stabbing and died on July 3, 2014. Dr. William Hamilton, the District Eight Medical Examiner, conducted the autopsy of Burns.

Dr. Hamilton identified a total of sixty-four stab wounds on Burns’ body but conceded that number to be a minimum, not a maximum, because some wounds may have healed during the time between the stabbing and Burns’ death. One of the multiple wounds was a gaping 9.5 inch x 2.5 inch healing abdominal wound.

Weighing only 86 pounds at the time of his death, Burns suffered from severe malnutrition as a result of the stab wounds, which Dr. Hamilton described as "penetrating injuries of chest and abdomen which resulted in a profound loss of blood and ischemic injury to internal organs, particularly to the intestinal canal." Dr. Hamilton also testified that Burns "had penetrating injuries into the central nervous system with a resultant small stroke in the cerebellum and subsequent infarction and necrosis of much of his spinal cord which left him quadriplegic." Dr. Hamilton did not identify any defensive wounds.

In November 2014, Santiago-Gonzalez was indicted for first-degree murder. He subsequently expressed his intent to plead guilty as charged, and in June 2016, the trial court sua sponte ordered two competency evaluations. Both experts determined that Santiago-Gonzalez was competent to proceed and submitted written reports to that...

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    ...supported by competent, substantial evidence." Davidson, 323 So.3d at 1250 (alteration in original) (quoting Santiago-Gonzalez v. State, 301 So.3d 157, 180 (Fla. 2020)). But when, as here, a defendant's guilty plea results in the death-eligible conviction, we instead review the record to de......
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    • November 19, 2020
    ...the entry of a written order nunc pro tunc to the date the trial court orally found him competent to proceed. In Santiago-Gonzalez v. State , 301 So. 3d 157, 175 (Fla. 2020), we recognized that "this Court has read Florida Rule of Criminal Procedure 3.212(b) as requiring issuance of a writt......
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1 books & journal articles
  • Pretrial motions and defenses
    • United States
    • James Publishing Practical Law Books The Florida Criminal Cases Notebook. Volume 1-2 Volume 1
    • April 30, 2021
    ...evaluation when the defendant indicated he wanted to enter a plea to murder and request the death penalty. Santiago-Gonzalez v. State, 301 So. 3d 157 (Fla. 2020) Holding in Hall v. Florida applies retroactively as it is a development of fundamental significance. Inmates are entitled to new ......

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