Wednesday, November 3, 2004

Johnson homicide trial witness arrested

Drug charges jeopardize temporary hold for trial testimony

Express Staff Writer

A broken taillight led to the arrest of Johnson homicide trial witness Bruno Santos, 20, an undocumented alien from Mexico living in Blaine County with a special parole status, said Blaine County Prosecuting Attorney Jim Thomas. Santos was arrested Oct. 30 during a routine traffic stop on Fox Acres Road in Hailey, said Sheriff Walt Femling.

Arraigned Monday on felony drug possession of about half an ounce of methamphetamine, Santos is being held in the Blaine County jail on a $10,000 bond.

If the arrest results in criminal charges, Santos will be in violation of the terms of a special immigration status organized by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to allow Santos to be in the U.S. until the Johnson trial is complete, Thomas said. Immigration law is now the business of the Department of Homeland Security.

Santos is permitted to live and work in Blaine County in order to be present as a witness for the defense of Sarah Johnson, 17, said Thomas. Johnson, who is scheduled to stand trial Feb. 1, is accused of shooting her parents, Alan and Diane Johnson, at the family?s Bellevue home in the early morning hours of Sept. 2, 2003.

Thomas said Santos would be called as a witness in the Johnson trial.

?He is allowed to be here until the case is done,? Thomas said. He added that so far Santos has followed the terms of his parole by maintaining a job and checking in regularly with the sheriff?s office. In addition, he has violated no laws in the past year. A drug conviction could result in his being deported again.

Thomas explained that during initial questioning following the Johnson murders over a year ago, it was discovered that Santos was in the U.S. illegally. He was deported Sept. 25, 2003.

Arrangements were made for Santos to be returned to the U.S. for a grand jury hearing in the murder case a month later on Oct. 29, 2003. He has been in Blaine County since then, Thomas said.

Santos? drug arrest could result in a probation violation and problems for the Johnson trial, Thomas said. ?He is subject to deportation, but we need him here.?

The arrest also creates a conflict for Thomas as a county prosecutor.

Thomas said he is seeking a special prosecutor to sit at Santos? preliminary hearing for the drug charges, which is scheduled for Nov. 10. Thomas said he has asked Jerome County Prosecuting Attorney John Nicholson to take his place in prosecuting the drug charges.

?Since I am calling him as witness in the Johnson homicide case, I can?t prosecute (Santos on the drug charges),? Thomas said.

If Santos is convicted of the drug charges, Thomas said he hopes an additional witness bond will help him keep Santos in the U.S. for the trial.

Although Santos? immigration status and the Johnson case are both complicated, the drug charge is fairly straight forward, Thomas said. In addition to felony possession charges, Santos may also face trafficking charges, Thomas added.

Femling said police found methamphetamine in a Marlboro cigarette pack and a pipe used to ingest the drug, which were determined in the course of the investigation to belong to Santos. Santos was initially booked for possession of methamphetamine and paraphernalia.

Johnson, who was 16 at the time of her arrest, has spent most of the last year in the Blaine County Jail in lieu of a $2 million bond. Because the Hailey jail does not have enough room to keep her separated from adult prisoners, Johnson currently is being held in the Mini-Cassia Justice Center jail in Minidoka County.

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