Friday, December 10, 2004

Santistevan sobs through testimony

Jury could give verdict in shooting case today

Express Staff Writer

David L. Santistevan

When he took the stand Thursday afternoon, Bellevue musician David L. Santistevan fell to sobbing and crying as he recounted the day last spring that he shot two Bellevue youths.

Santistevan, 47, was arrested on March 30 and is charged with two counts of attempted murder in the second degree. Since his arrest, he has been incarcerated in the Blaine County Jail in lieu of a $1 million bond.

Although Santistevan's trial was scheduled to last until Wednesday, Dec. 15, in all likelihood the defense will wrap up its arguments Friday morning, and the jury could issue a verdict sometime today.

The fact that Santistevan used a 9 mm handgun to shoot Marshall Hooten, 19, and Tyrel Peak, 16, behind the Silver Dollar Saloon in Bellevue on March 29 is not in dispute. The fact that Santistevan did not call authorities to report the altercation is not in dispute. The fact that he disposed of his handgun after the incident is not in dispute.

The crux of the case appears to be whether Santistevan or the youths were the aggressors in the altercation, which occurred when the three had two encounters on the first day of spring break.

Throughout the trial, Santistevan looked clean-cut and wore a navy blue suit. His emotional testimony was the only break from his otherwise stoic demeanor.

When Hooten approached Santistevan behind the Silver Dollar Saloon, he appeared aggressive, Santistevan said, adding that he asked Hooten to go away at least four different times.

He "looked pretty wasted. He was pretty intense," Santistevan said. "All this happened so fast. From the time they got off the vehicle, I didn't have any time to react," Santistevan said. "He said, 'Come on. F...' shoot me.' He said, 'I'm going to pound your f...' face.' I said, 'Just go. Stay away from me.'"

Santistevan said he shot in the air. He shot at the ground. He fired a warning shot at Hooten's feet, and then he shot Hooten in the gut before shooting Peak in his lower back as he was driving away on a four-wheeler the two youths had been riding around town.

"It was so fast. I didn't know what to do," Santistevan said as his tears intensified. "I just left. I was like, 'Jesus Christ, what the hell is happening.'"

While questions from defense attorney Keith Roark were relatively short-lived, Blaine County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Justin Whatcott cross examined the defendant for the better part of an hour, reiterating points the prosecution had procured from other witnesses.

A key point in the trial occurred when 5th District Judge Robert Elgee ruled that songs Santistevan had written could be submitted as evidence. According to Whatcott, the songs were about murder.

But Santistevan said he writes songs about nature, love, religion and any number of other topics, in addition to murder.

"Did you shoot Marshall Hooten so you could write a song about it?" defense attorney Keith Roark asked Santistevan.

"God no," he answered and burst into a howling fit of tears.

But Santistevan's testimony was only a short part of a day chock full of prosecution and defense witnesses. As the newspaper went to press Thursday afternoon, a psychiatrist took the stand to comment on defense assertions that Santistevan suffers from acute stress disorder, which may have exaggerated his response to the altercation with the Bellevue youths.

Additional dramatic testimony was given Thursday morning when John Marshall Hooten, one of Santistevan's victims, took the stand.

When he was shot in the belly in the Bellevue alley last spring, Hooten felt the most intense pain of his life, he said.

"Everything kind of expanded, and my insides just kind of burned from the inside out. It was the worst pain imaginable," Hooten said from the witness stand.

Hooten, who returned to Blaine County on Monday, Dec. 6 after spending most of the past year at St. Alphonsus Regional Medical Center in Boise and at a rehabilitation center in Alabama, propelled himself into the courtroom using an orange wheelchair. He wore an orange button up shirt, and an orange backpack hung from the back of his wheelchair.

At Whatcott's request, he opened his shirt to show jurors the scar in his upper right abdomen where a 9 mm bullet entered. He spoke clearly and, with the exception of being restricted to the wheelchair, appeared healthy.

Although his memory of March 29 is spotty, he said he remembers the final moments before he slipped into a five to six week coma. Those moments came as he was being loaded into the back of an ambulance.

"I remember I started flailing my arms and saying, 'Don't let me die. Don't let me die.' Then I remember them cutting off my shirt, and I was saying, 'Don't let me die.' That was it. Then I went into cardiac arrest."

Hooten was the final witness called by prosecutors as they built their case against Santistevan. Over the course of three days, they built the case by interviewing police detectives, forensic experts, doctors and the two local youths who were shot by Santistevan on March 29.

Late Thursday afternoon, defense lawyers continued to call witnesses and build their case. They started with the crime's lead detective in an attempt to show that Hooten's testimony was inconsistent with comments he made during a June 4 interview from his hospital bed in Boise.

Other witnesses called by the defense testified that Santistevan may have fired more than three rounds, which would indicate that he did fire more than one warning shot as he testified.

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