United States District Court, D. South Carolina
Christopher A. Santiago, #304243 Petitioner,
Warden Tim Riley, Kirkland Correctional Institution, Respondent.
ORDER AND OPINION
Richard Mark Gergel, United States District Court Judge.
matter is before the Court on the Report and Recommendation
("R. & R.") of the Magistrate Judge
recommending that this Court grant Respondent's motion
for summary judgment. (Dkt. Nos. 21, 15.) Petitioner has
filed objections to the R & R and the Respondent has
filed a response. (Dkt. Nos. 22, 24.) For the reasons set
forth below, the Court grants Respondent's motion for
was indicted by the Beaufort County Grand Jury in October
2002 for murder and possession of a firearm during commission
of a violent crime. Petitioner was tried by a jury before the
Honorable Diane Schafer Goodstein. Evidence offered at trial
indicated that Petitioner and the victim, Joe Wisn, were
involved in a running dispute over Petitioner's
relationship with the victim's daughter. Prior to the
fateful events of August 9, 2002, the victim had ordered
Petitioner out of his vacation home in Hilton Head, where he
had been residing with the victim's daughter. Petitioner
was deeply upset about his expulsion from the victim's
home and the resulting disruption of the relationship with
the victim's daughter.
received a telephone message from the victim's father to
come by the vacation home to retrieve personal belongings he
had left behind. Petitioner arrived at the victim's home
and testified that the victim ridiculed him and told him to
"stay the f-away from my daughter." As the victim
was placing Petitioner's belongings in the truck of
Petitioner's car, the victim saw a shotgun, which was
loaded. Petitioner testified that he believed the victim was
about to grab the shotgun, and he grabbed the loaded weapon
and pointed it at the victim. The victim told Petitioner
"don't be f-ing stupid." Petitioner took a step
backward. Petitioner testified that he thought the victim was
about to reach for the weapon so he shot him four times,
resulting in the victim's death. State v.
Santiago, 634 S.E.2d 23, 25-6 (S.C. App. 2006).
fled the scene but later drove to a fire station, where he
told a fireman he had shot a man who had "ruined his
life." Law enforcement officers were summoned,
Petitioner was Mirandized, and then gave a full confession.
He was then arrested, tried and convicted of murder and
possession of a firearm during the commission of a violent
crime. Id. at 26. Petitioner's conviction was
affirmed on direct appeal and a subsequent state
post-conviction petition was denied. (Dkt. No. 1-4 at
285-297, 325, 326-27). Petitioner thereafter filed a petition
for a writ of habeas corpus with this Court.
course of Petitioner's trial which resulted in his
criminal convictions, Petitioner sought to admit the
testimony of a forensic psychiatrist, Dr. Donna
Schwartz-Watts, that he suffered from Asperger's
Disorder. This diagnosis was reached, according to defense
counsel, after Dr. Schwartz-Watts had examined Petitioner and
reviewed his medical records. Defense counsel summarized Dr.
Schwartz-Watts' testimony for the trial court, explaining
that Asperger's Disorder is a subset of autism which
interferes with a person's perceptions, particularly in
stressful and anger-filled situations. (Dkt. No. 1-3 at
21-22, 143-145). Defense counsel sought to admit this
evidence to support a defense of self-defense.
trial judge stated that she recognized that the proposed
defense testimony was "offered for the purpose of
establishing that by virtue of Mr. Santiago's emotional,
mental illness or particular mental illness ... it has an
effect on his perception and emotional state" and that
his perception of a threat was not "normal."
(Id. at 30). Defense counsel summarized Dr.
Schwartz-Watts' testimony, rather than put the physician
on the stand to make a formal record of her testimony. The
trial judge refused to allow Dr. Schwartz-Watts to testify,
finding that such testimony was essentially offered in
support of a diminished capacity defense, which is not
recognized in South Carolina. (Id. at 30-31). She
further concluded that the facts before the Court did not
support a charge for self-defense, specifically finding
Petitioner could not meet the requirement that any perceived
danger to support a claim of self-defense must meet a
reasonable person standard under South Carolina law.
(Id. at 150-153). The trial judge's ruling
regarding the legal standard for charging self-defense under
South Carolina law was affirmed by the Court of Appeals.
State v. Santiago, 634 S.E.2d at 26-29.
state court conviction became final on November 21, 2007, 90
days after denial of his petition for certiorari with the
United States Supreme Court on August 23, 2007. Petitioner
filed his state PCR petition on February 28, 2008, tolling
the statute of limitations after 99 days of untolled time had
expired. Petitioner's petition for a writ of certiorari
from his PCR appeal was denied on December 30, 2015, with the
remittitur being filed with the Beaufort County Clerk of
Court on January 25, 2016. This petition for a writ of habeas
corpus was filed on October 28, 2016, which was 277 days
after the PCR petition became final. Thus, the total number
of untolled days was 376 days, rendering Petitioner's
petition untimely under the one year statute of limitations
under the ADEPA, 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(1).
raised in his habeas petition the following two grounds for
relief based on the alleged ineffective assistance of his
Trial counsel failed to offer or proffer expert psychiatric
testimony that Mr. Santiago's Asperger's Disorder
caused him to perceive the victim's words and acts as
threatening. The absence of this evidence denied Mr. Santiago
critical facts that supported a self-defense charge by the
trial court and would have given the jury a choice beyond
mere guilt or innocence. Even if the trial court refused to
give such a charge, the court of appeals would have been able
to review that decision with the benefit of Dr.
Schwartz-Watts' testimony. Thus, the absence of this
evidence denied Mr. Santiago a defense and precluded him from
presenting his case to a jury of his peers.
Trial counsel failed to call Dr. Schwartz-Watts to explain
that Mr. Santiago's fragile mental state was responsible
for the bizarre, inculpatory pretrial statements he gave to
police. Had counsel offered this evidence, these statements
would have been excluded altogether or, at least, explained
to a jury that had no opportunity to understand the serious
developmental disorder that shapes Chris Santiago and his
perceptions or the mental health crisis he was still
undergoing when he was interrogated. (Dkt. No. 1 at 7.)
Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation
Magistrate Judge makes only a recommendation to this Court.
The recommendation has no presumptive weight, and the
responsibility for making a final determination remains with
this Court. See Mathews v. Weber,423 U.S. 261,
270-71 (1976). The Court may "accept, reject, or modify,
in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by
the magistrate judge." 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). As
indicated below, the Court accepts the recommendation of the
Magistrate Judge that the ...