Unrepentant Oxnard Child Killer Sentenced

Times Staff Writer

There were no words of remorse from convicted child killer Patrick Santillano on Tuesday. No expressions of sadness for the neglect and abuse that claimed the life of a 14-month-old boy left in his care two years ago.

Instead, Santillano, a 34-year-old Oxnard drug dealer and heroin addict, lashed out at his court-appointed lawyer during his sentencing and insisted that he played no role in the torture-murder for which he was found guilty last month.

"I can't feel sorry for something I didn't do, because I wasn't there," said Santillano, who also took the stand at trial to assert his innocence.

Ventura County Superior Court Judge James P. Cloninger was not swayed. He told the defendant Tuesday that prosecutors had presented ample evidence to prove Santillano systematically tortured Demitri Robledo by gagging, starving and tying up the child for extended periods of time.

Cloninger described the toddler as a vulnerable victim subjected to "the most vicious, most callous" of crimes and ordered Santillano to serve 34 years to life in state prison.

Santillano was found guilty last month of first-degree murder, torture, assault on a child resulting in death, aggravated mayhem and child abuse.

Cloninger stopped short of imposing consecutive sentences for each count, ruling that with the exception of one act of violence the offenses amounted to a continuing course of conduct.

Cloninger sentenced Santillano to 25 years to life on the murder count, and added nine years for an incident in which the defendant broke the child's arm.

According to court testimony, Demitri's mother left the boy with Santillano and his former girlfriend, Teresa Rodriguez, after being arrested on a drug charge Aug. 7, 2000. At the time, the couple were living with their own 2-year-old daughter in a garage apartment in south Oxnard.

Rodriguez, 20, was a heroin addict and Santillano was dealing the drug from their residence.

According to prosecutors, Demitri only had a rash when his father dropped him off with the couple Aug. 8. Less than three months later, Rodriguez drove Demitri to St. John's Regional Medical Center in Oxnard, where he was pronounced dead.

After her arrest, Rodriguez implicated Santillano before pleading guilty to voluntary manslaughter and mayhem. She is scheduled to be sentenced next week and could face 12 years in prison.

At trial, she told jurors that Demitri, who came to the apartment with a rash, often scratched, cried and wanted to be held, which irritated Santillano, particularly when he was trying to shoot up heroin.

Early in his stay, the boy developed a wound to his nose, and often picked at the scab. Rodriguez testified that Santillano slapped the boy and tied the child's hands behind his back to make him stop.

Rodriguez said that her boyfriend pushed a sock in Demitri's mouth and then tied a cloth around his head to secure it.

Santillano testified that he was not living in the apartment in the weeks preceding Demitri's death.

Defense attorney Steve Powell suggested that Rodriguez made up the story to implicate his client after learning he was with another woman.

On Tuesday, Powell asked Cloninger to grant Santillano a new trial. The judge refused and said he hoped Santillano, who will be eligible for parole at age 66, is never set free.

The remarks drew applause from Demitri's relatives in the courtroom.

"I hope he gets what he deserves in state prison," said Yvette Rivas, 23, the child's mother.

Outside the courtroom, Rivas and her mother, Georgia, embraced some jurors who had returned to court Tuesday to watch the sentencing of Santillano. About six of the men and women sat side-by-side during the hearing.

Last month, Cloninger handed each panel member a picture of a smiling Demitri to help erase some of the gory autopsy images viewed during the three-week trial.

Juror Dixie Dick sought counseling and visited Demitri's gravesite after the verdict. She said she remains haunted by autopsy photos of the boy's starved, bruised and mutilated body.

Dick, who has no children, said jurors were deeply affected by the evidence and came to refer to Demitri as "our baby" during deliberations. "He touched all of us," she said.

In fact, the jurors were so moved by the case that they pooled $900 to purchase a gravestone for the child's unmarked burial plot in Oxnard.

It will be engraved with angels and read: "Our baby. Demitri Ion Robledo. Forever in God's Caring Hands."

Family members, who said they had to rely on donations to bury Demitri, were grateful for the gesture.

Georgia Rivas, the child's grandmother, said: "It really is a blessing. The Lord works in different ways, and he brought us these people."

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