Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Santos going to trial on drug charges

Co-defendant pleads guilty to meth conspiracy charge


By TERRY SMITH
Express Staff Writer

Bruno Santos Jose Benitez-Diaz

Jury trials remain on schedule next month for Bruno Santos, the former boyfriend of convicted murderer Sarah Johnson, on three felony drug-sale charges in Blaine County.

"We're prepared for trial," said Ketchum attorney Dan Dolan, Santos' court-appointed public defender, at a pretrial conference Monday in Blaine County 5th District Court.

Dolan said he has discussed a plea agreement with the Blaine County Prosecuting Attorney's Office but there are still outstanding issues.

"They're not resolved and we're going to trial at this time," Dolan told the court.

There are two trials scheduled for Santos. The first is set to begin on Jan. 11. In that case, Santos, 26, is charged with trafficking in methamphetamine for allegedly selling a half pound of the drug to an Idaho State Police undercover detective on May 14 in Hailey.

Santos' second trial is scheduled to start on Jan. 26. He is charged in that case with delivery of cocaine and trafficking in cocaine for allegedly selling the drug on two occasions in April to a Blaine County Narcotics Enforcement Team confidential informant.

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Meanwhile, Santo's co-defendant in the methamphetamine case accepted a plea agreement with the prosecutor's office and pleaded guilty Monday to conspiracy to trafficking in methamphetamine. Jose Benitez-Diaz, a 28-year-old Ogden, Utah, man who court records describe as Santos' cousin, admitted in court that he conspired with Santos to sell the drug.

"I'm agreeing to plead guilty because I'm taking responsibility," Benitez-Diaz told the court through an interpreter. "I feel bad. I feel guilty. I hope that you will forgive me."

Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Matt Fredback said he will recommend at sentencing that Benitez-Diaz be sentenced to eight years in prison with four years to be served before parole eligibility. Fredback said the plea agreement does not require Benitez-Diaz to testify against Santos.

Sentencing was scheduled for Feb. 7.

Both Santos and Benitez-Diaz have remained incarcerated in the Blaine County jail since their arrests in May. The federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency has accused both of being in the United States illegally.

Santos was a suspect but was never charged in the murders of Sarah Johnson's parents, Alan and Diane Johnson, at the couple's home in Bellevue in 2003. Convicted of the murders in 2005, Sarah Johnson is now serving two life prison sentences without the possibility of parole.

Terry Smith: tsmith@mtexpress.com




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