A Miami man who was arrested in 2014 for the murder of a New York restaurant owner in 1986 says the incident ruined his life and he is also a victim.
Justo Santos, 44, is charged with the murder of José 'George' Martinez, who was fatally shot 25 years ago, when his daughter Joselyn Martinez was just 9 years old. Santos was found in Miami last year after Joselyn tracked him down via social media.
Santos claims he acted in self-defense after Martinez choked him outside the restaurant. Martinez died in front of his wife.
“I was the victim, too,” Santos told a Manhattan court, according to the New York Post.
“It destroyed my life,” the father-of-five added.
In 1986, Santos, then 16, and two of his friends were kicked out of Martinez’s restaurant for sexually harassing a waitress, the prosecution says.
Santos claims that Martinez followed him outside of the restaurant and put him in a chokehold.
“I thought he was killing me,” he told Justice Robert Stolz. “I shot him because he was killing me and I wanted him off.”
His defense attorney Lawrence Herrmann argues that authorities are negligent because they didn’t arrest Santos sooner – making it hard to mount a credible defense.
“He says he’s the victim,” Joselyn told The Post. “It’s really absurd but not surprising. He’s a person that flees, that never took responsibility for what he did.”
Police say Santos originally fled to the Dominican Republic after the murder. He was apprehended and convicted of felony involuntary manslaughter and served about a year in jail. At age 19, he snuck back into the U.S. He even managed to gain citizenship while living in Miami.
The hearing will resume Sept. 18.
Image credit: Flickr Creative Commons / Heather