Aug 02, 2023

Santiago murder trial: Fort Campbell soldier faces jury in death of pregnant wife

FORT CAMPBELL, KY (CLARKSVILLE NOW) – It’s been almost two years since Sgt. 1st Class Joseph A. Santiago, a 5th Special Forces Group support soldier, was arrested and charged with murdering his pregnant wife. After the trial was postponed in January, it finally began last week, with jury deliberations lasting into late Monday night.

At about 10 p.m., the jury recessed for the night, and they will resume at 9 a.m.

On Sept. 27, 2021, Meghan Santiago sustained blunt force injuries and later died in the hospital, according to her autopsy report. An emergency C-section and brain surgery were performed in an attempt to save her and her unborn child. The baby girl survived being born eight weeks early, but Meghan died from her injuries.

Santiago was charged with three articles, military criminal offenses covered under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ):

The prosecution stated that there were three people involved in the Santiago marriage: Meghan, Joe and Joe’s temper. While the defense argued that it was Meghan, Joe and Meghan’s alcohol addiction.

“Truth versus the impossible,” prosecution attorney Maj. Allyson Montgomery said. “That’s what you’re presented with today in your decision-making process. Supported truth from countless witnesses, countless messages, countless photos and countless injuries. Truth versus the impossible.”

The prosecution detailed that Meghan was isolated and without a phone. She had plans to leave with her children, but Joe Santiago refused to let that happen. There were eight reported incidents of violence in the Santiago home, and, on the evening of the alleged attack, several Google searches were reported from Joe’s phone, including a Google search that the prosecution said he made after he “hit his wife so hard she lost consciousness.”

“I’ve been doing this awhile, and this is one of the worst investigations I’ve ever seen,” Jason Marquez, defense attorney for Santiago, told the court. He claimed that after his client was taken into custody, Joe informed agents from the Army Criminal Investigation Division that Meghan was an alcoholic and had hidden alcohol throughout the house, but none of the agents had looked for any. Five bottles of vodka were discovered in the home, including in a children’s backpack and under toys.

Meghan had her flaws, according to Montgomery. She had a serious issue battling alcoholism and trying to curb her addiction, and she had allegedly continued drinking while pregnant. “But Meghan’s flaws aren’t what killed her,” Montgomery told the court.

The defense claimed that Joe Santiago had no knowledge of his wife’s pregnancy, and in a picture taken in Florida, Meghan could be seen wearing the same waist trainer, that was later found in the Santiago house, to hide her pregnancy. The government argued that despite Meghan keeping her pregnancy a secret, her husband knew, and had even taken a picture of her “very pregnant belly” while she was lying on the couch.

When the defense claimed that Meghan’s injuries were caused by a drunken fall, the prosecution quipped back and stated that Meghan’s injuries due to a fall were refuted not only by Dr. Brandon Downs, an orthopedic surgeon, but also by the disheveled state of the house.

“Meghan wasn’t strong enough to stop her alcohol addiction, and she wasn’t strong enough to stop her husband,” Montgomery told the panel.

According to messages Meghan exchanged between friends and family, “Not even a judge could stop her husband.”

The judge for the case was Col. Travis Rogers.

Correction: A previous version of this report misidentified the lead trial counsel, Maj. Allyson Montgomery. The article has been updated.

Jordan Renfro is a news reporter with Reach her by email at [email protected] or call 931-648-7720 ext. 547