By Dorrin Akbari
SACRAMENTO, CA – Victim impact statements can be heart-wrenching.
And one read by Deputy District Attorney Danny Lee to a Sacramento County Superior Court last week describing the daily physical and psychological pain the victim endured following a violent machete attack was particularly so.
Defendant Rafael Santiago appeared before Judge Michael Savage to plead guilty to one count of arson, one count of driving under the influence, and one count of assault with a deadly weapon used to produce great bodily injury.
Speaking through his Spanish interpreter, the defendant expressed remorse for his actions and a desire to pay for his crimes. He did not, however, provide a motive for any of his acts.
DDA Lee described the two events that had resulted in Santiago’s charges:
On March 26, 2020, Lee said, Santiago went to House of Bling Bling Car Wash and used a lighter to set fire to a pillow. He proceeded to place the pillow next to the base of a plywood panel affixed to the car wash.
This resulted in a fire that extended to the roof of the structure, causing charring and other damage throughout the car wash.
Wielding the machete in his left arm, Santiago swung and struck the victim in the face and head area. Officers arrived to find Santiago on the scene, holding the bloody machete.
The victim suffered a laceration to the right side of his face and fractures to two parts of his jaw. Santiago also inflicted a nine-inch long, three-inch deep cut to the victim’s face that included a severed earlobe.
Having heard the facts, Judge Savage moved forward with the entering of Santiago’s pleas.
As Judge Savage enumerated the rights being waived and the consequences of his charges, Santiago expressed remorse for his actions.
“Do you understand that, as a result of these pleas, if you’re not a citizen of the U.S. you could be deported, excluded from admission, or denied U.S. citizenship?” inquired Judge Savage.
“Yes, whatever they say. I can’t object to any of it because I do feel that I am guilty,” replied Santiago to his interpreter.
Santiago’s case was further complicated by the fact that two of the three counts to which he was pleading were serious felonies, making them each strikes under California’s Three Strikes sentencing law.
Under the law, Santiago’s admission to two strikes would mean that if he commits a felony in the future, he would be subject to mandatory custody terms that are twice the term otherwise allowed by law or a term of up to 25 years to life in custody, depending on the total number of strikes alleged.
For his pleas this week, Santiago received a sentence of nine years and four months in state prison. He had 367 days of credit that would count toward his time served.
Following the acceptance of Santiago’s pleas by Judge Savage, DDA Lee read the heartbreaking impact statement of the machete attack victim into the record:
“I don’t know why he did it, but it is not acceptable. I hope he gets the maximum sentence…I have to live my life with scars and pain…I can’t sleep or go anywhere without people looking at my face. I get nightmares…My face still hurts…I can’t eat [solid] foods…My boss, the owner of [the car wash], fired me [following the attack]…I lost everything.”
Dorrin Akbari graduated from UC Berkeley in 2019 with a B.A. in Legal Studies and a minor in Persian. She is from San Jose, CA.
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