Carlos Almanzar-Torres, right inset, was sentenced for the murder of Damian Santiago, left inset. (Mug shot from the Lancaster County District Attorney’s Office; Victim’s photo from his obituary; Crime scene screenshot from Pennsylvania NBC affiliate WGAL)
A man will spend the rest of his life in prison for shooting a 19-year-old man in a gas station store near Philadelphia — punching him as he lay collapsed and dying — over an unpaid $50 phone bill.
Carlos Almanzar-Torres, 23, was given a life sentence without the possibility of parole for the killing of Damian Santiago, prosecutors said.
“We are here for the actions of an angry man,” prosecuting Assistant District Attorney CJ Restemayer said during the proceeding, according to a news release. “This is a man who hunted another human being and tried to shoot him five times. He then punched the victim multiple times as he laid dying. On that day, he ended two lives: Damian Santiago’s and his own. [The victim] didn’t deserve to die. The [victim’s] family asked for justice, and the jury delivered it.”
Judge David Ashworth upbraided the defendant.
“This situation was entirely and completely avoidable and entirely and completely unnecessary,” Ashworth said.
Almanzar-Torres and his defense counsel declined to make a statement during the hearing, prosecutors said.
The events leading up to the killing started just after 10 p.m. on March 14, 2022, at the store in front of two employees and surveillance video, according to a news release from the Lancaster City Bureau of Police.
The argument started outside the gas station but continued inside. Santiago punched Almanzar-Torres in the head. They fell to the floor. The fighting continued. Almanzar-Torres fired a shot from his gun. The stray bullet went through Almanzar-Torres’ sweatshirt and lodged in a freezer.
They got up, with Almanzar-Torres holding his gun and Santiago moving to the back of the store, trying to get away from him. At one point, Almanzar-Torres’ gun jammed, and as he tried to unjam it, he tracked Santiago up and down aisles, authorities said.
Once he succeeded in unjamming the gun, Almanzar-Torres moved parallel to Santiago with an aisle separating them before raising the gun over the aisle and firing a shot, prosecutors said.
The bullet hit Santiago in the shoulder, pierced his lung, and stopped in his heart, prosecutors said, citing testimony from the forensic pathologist who conducted the autopsy.
Almanzar-Torres punched Santiago multiple times as the fatally wounded young man lay collapsed. The killer then fled to his apartment, where he got his passport but wound up surrendering to police about an hour later with his arms raised, saying he wanted to speak with police and that there was a firearm in the front seat of his car parked outside.
During his trial, his defense lawyer asked the jury to find him guilty of voluntary manslaughter, WJLA reported.
But a jury needed less than an hour to return a guilty verdict to first-degree murder and two counts of recklessly endangering another person for the two employees in the store at the time, authorities said.
“He was intending for a fight, instigating a fight,” Restemayer said during her closing argument. “He brought a gun to a fistfight, and he made sure that fight ended in murder.”
Santiago enjoyed playing basketball and video games and loved music, his online fundraiser said.
“Damian loved his family, always helping as peacemaker,” the page said. “He had a great sense of humor and loved to spend time with his family.”
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