Adriana Johnson clearly remembers the January afternoon six years ago when she watched her father scuffle with a young man on a Liberty City street. She remembers the teen skirt down a side street, return with an AK-47 rifle and unleash a flurry of bullets. The memories, on Tuesday, were crisp:
Her mother bleeding from the leg, screaming that she had been shot.
The homicide detectives investigating the murders of her parents presenting her with a photo lineup. The instant recognition. The killer sported two distinctive tattoos inked on each cheek.
“Crosses. On each side of his face,” Adriana, now 16, told jurors Tuesday, on the opening day of the murder trial for Benito “Bo” Santiago.
The suspect’s conspicuous crucifix tattoos lay at the heart of the prosecution’s case against Santiago, 23, charged with two counts of first-degree murder.
On Tuesday, prosecutors said that Adriana and another witness identified Santiago, whom they knew from around the neighborhood, as the man who killed Grace Armstrong, 27, and Adrian Johnson, 28.
The second witness, prosecutor Kathleen Cortes told jurors, knew Santiago well — she had allowed him to sleep at her home from time to time.
But defense attorney Alan Greenstein said prosecutors have no physical evidence linking Santiago to the crime and eyewitness testimony is unreliable. The second witness, Patricia Wilcher, never housed Santiago in the months preceding the shooting because the teen was living in New York at the time, Greenstein said.
“She’s got the wrong man,” Greenstein told jurors.