VISTA—A Vista gang member accused of gunning down a partygoer during a fight pleaded guilty July 30 to the teen’s murder.
Midway through his trial, Brian Santiago, 17, pleaded guilty to the second-degree murder of 19-year-old Ethan Hall.
In a phone interview, Deputy District Attorney Geoff Allard said the plea deal was requested by Santiago and had not been formally offered by the prosecution prior to the start of the trial. “We’re never surprised about anything that happens, so we just dealt with it,” Allard said.
Prosecutors alleged Santiago, who was charged as an adult, murdered Hall to increase his standing in the criminal organization as well as the reputation of the gang itself.
Hall, of Vista, wasn’t affiliated with any criminal street gang, Allard said.
A fight broke out between Hall and three Vista gang members, including Santiago, shortly before 11 p.m. Dec. 12, 2008, at a house party in the 1000 block of North Drive in Vista, Allard said. The trio was not winning the fight, so the defendant drew out a handgun and shot Hall in the chest. The bullet penetrated his heart.
With the bullet lodged in his back, Hall managed to run across the street but Santiago tracked him down and shot Hall in the head, Allard said.
The gun, which wasn’t recovered, was believed to be a .38 caliber revolver.
Under his plea agreement, Santiago will receive 40 years to life in prison, Allard said. His sentencing is scheduled for Aug. 27.
In addition to the murder charge, Santiago admitted to the allegation that he used a firearm to commit the crime, which added 25 years to his sentence. Prior to his plea agreement, Santiago had been charged with murder in the first degree and faced up to 50 years to life in prison.
It is still unknown what the four men were fighting about, Allard said. However, he said there was a lot of underage drinking going on at the party. Prior to the altercation with Hall, Santiago fired off a gun in the backyard, which caused a stampede to the front of the residence, Allard said.
Charges were not filed against the two other gang members or anyone else at the party; however, Allard said investigations into the incident are still pending.