Hialeah Man Wrongly Convicted of Murder

He's behind bars for life.

Tucker, his attorney, says Ricky was so frightened of Santo that he didn't want to show up at his court hearings. "My concern is that when this article comes out, my client will be scared again," Tucker says. "Santo Hernandez may be in prison, but that doesn't mean he can't have someone on the outside do his bidding."

Santo provides a more compelling description of what happened to George and Michel. He insists Ricky burst out of the bathroom wearing black gloves and holding a .22-caliber pistol equipped with a homemade silencer. He shot George twice, capped Michel six times, and put a gun to Santo's head. "He told me if I didn't help him that something would happen to me and my family," Santo recalls. "He called George a snitch."

Along with a third man, whom Santo identified as Ricky's friend Ernesto Alanis, the pair cleaned up the blood and scooped up shards of glass from a patio glass door that had been shattered by a stray bullet. Then they wrapped the bodies in bed comforters and loaded them into the back of George's truck. Ricky drove off in it.

Santo Hernandez is serving a life sentence in state prison for a crime he says he didn't commit.
Courtesy of the Hernandez family
Santo Hernandez is serving a life sentence in state prison for a crime he says he didn't commit.

It was 3:40 that afternoon when firefighters found the burning truck with the bodies inside.

The investigation seemed easier than anyone could have imagined. On January 21, 2003, around 6:15 p.m., Santo's girlfriend Vicky met with Hialeah Police investigators. Before Santo moved in, she said, he had sold "coke, pills, and grass." But then he promised to leave that lifestyle behind. In addition, she remembered Santo had only $2,000 to $3,000 in cash in November, but he suddenly came upon $10,000. When she inquired about the money, he told her: "The less you know the better it is."

Vicky said Santo and Ricky were together between 1:30 and 2 p.m. December 12, 2002, when the pair showed up at her beauty school to drop off cosmetology supplies. Vicky says Santo was behind the wheel of her 1998 Toyota Corolla. Ricky, who was riding shotgun and wearing a trench coat, briefly got out to say hello and then returned to the passenger's seat. "Ricky was acting strange," she recalled. "He normally gave me a bear hug when he saw me, and this time he didn't." Santo, she said, "was a little anxious to get out of there."

Vicky came home later that evening to find the patio glass door shattered and a bullet hole in the front door. When she asked about it, Santo said he and Ricky had been playing with Ricky's pistol when it accidentally fired. She didn't believe him and kicked him out of the townhouse.

A couple of days later, she discovered the two missing bed comforters and called Santo, who by then was staying at his parents' house. He claimed to know nothing. Before ending their conversation, Santo asked Vicky to get rid of a brick of fake cocaine he had stashed in her house. Ricky also called to inquire about the powdery substance. He offered to get rid of it for her, but she had already flushed it down the toilet. Vicky also told cops that Ricky had given her money to pay for the glass door and that he patched up the hole in the front door.

When detectives showed her the crime scene photos depicting the comforters used to wrap and burn the victims, she confirmed they were hers. In the townhouse, forensic investigators found traces of blood and a spent casing from a .22-caliber bullet in the living room.

Two days later, at 8:55 a.m., Hialeah Police picked up Ricky in the parking lot of his mother-in-law's home at 150 E. First Ave. During a daylong interrogation, he at first denied any knowledge of the murders but then pinned the deaths on Santo. He said he knew nothing about a drug deal with George. That night, Ricky was charged with one felony count of accessory after the fact.

On January 25, Hialeah Police arrested Santo. Though he described the events in the house in detail, police didn't believe him. The following day, he was booked on two counts of first-degree murder. "I never, ever thought that there was going to be a killing inside my house," Santo insists. "George was my best friend. I would never set him up. All I knew was that he wanted to use my place to count some money Ricky owed him."

So why did cops charge Santo, but not Ricky, with murder? It boils down to Santo's admission that he agreed to let George and Ricky use his home to conduct a drug transaction. Under state law, anyone who admits to participating in a crime that results in a person's death can be charged with murder.

Ricky, on the other hand, never admitted he was at Santo's house to participate in a drug deal. In fact Ricky said he knew nothing about George except that he was one of the murder victims.

The reason for charging Santo might lie in the men's backgrounds and the circumstances of their interrogations. The cops questioned Ricky first, so that likely shaped their view of things. Also, Santo, who had no record, knew the two lead detectives, Carlos Arango and Lionel Gracia, from his childhood. He felt comfortable opening up to them during his interrogation, the first and only time Santo was questioned by police about the crime.

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