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State v. Santillan

Supreme Court of Montana

December 19, 2017

STATE OF MONTANA, Plaintiff and Appellee,
STEPHEN EDWARD SANTILLAN, Defendant and Appellant.

          Submitted on Briefs: October 18, 2017

         APPEAL FROM: District Court of the Thirteenth Judicial District, In and For the County of Yellowstone, Cause No. DC 14-149 Honorable Mary Jane Knisely, Presiding Judge

          For Appellant: Chad Wright, Chief Appellate Defender, Haley Connell Jackson, Assistant Appellate Defender, Helena, Montana.

          For Appellee: Timothy C. Fox, Montana Attorney General, Michael S. Wellenstein, Assistant Attorney General, Helena, Montana Scott Twito, Yellowstone County Attorney, Brent Linneweber, Deputy County Attorney, Billings, Montana.


          Laurie McKinnon Justice.

         ¶1 Defendant Stephen Santillan (Santillan) appeals from a judgment of the Thirteenth Judicial District Court, Yellowstone County, sentencing him to 40 years incarceration, with 10 years suspended, and requiring him to pay $3, 568, 861.69 in restitution.

         ¶2 We affirm and address the following issues:

         1. Did the District Court err in admitting testimony that Child Protective Services removed children from Santillan's care?

         2. Did the District Court err by ordering Santillan pay restitution for the victim's future psychiatric treatment, counseling, family and marriage counseling, group home care, and case management expenses?


         ¶3 A.C. was tragically injured in July 2013 while in Santillan's care. She is the daughter of Danielle, Santillan's girlfriend, and Mitch and was born in August 2010. Danielle and Mitch shared parenting time pursuant to an informal agreement; Danielle parented A.C. from Sunday evening until Thursday evening, while Mitch parented A.C. from Thursday evening until Sunday evening. Before July 2013, A.C. exhibited some communication and language delays-she could not carry on a conversation and knew about five words. She was involved in a program called Early Childhood Intervention to help her communicate and learn language.

         ¶4 Danielle and Santillan had a son, J.S., in August 2011. On June 13, 2013, Santillan moved into Danielle's apartment, where Danielle, A.C., and J.S. lived. At that time, A.C. was almost three years old and J.S. was almost two years old. Danielle worked varying hours during the day. Santillan worked the night shift from approximately 10:30 p.m. until 3:00 a.m. Before Santillan moved in, A.C. and J.S. went to daycare while Danielle worked. The children stopped going to daycare in June 2013 due to the expense and because Santillan and Danielle's work schedules allowed one of them to care for the children while the other worked. Thus, Santillan cared for A.C. and J.S. while Danielle worked during the day.

         ¶5 On Sunday, July 7, 2013, Mitch dropped A.C. off at Danielle's apartment pursuant to their informal parenting arrangement. A.C. was healthy at that time. Danielle did not work on Wednesday, July 10, 2013, so she watched A.C. and J.S. while Santillan slept most of the day. A.C. acted normal that day and there were no indications that she was hurt. Santillan woke up in time to eat dinner with Danielle and the children, then he got ready for and went to work. Santillan got off work at 2:52 a.m. on Thursday, July 11, 2013. Danielle, A.C., and J.S. were sleeping when he got home. Santillan took a shower, got ready for bed, and fell asleep.

         ¶6 Danielle had an appointment at 8:30 a.m. on July 11, 2013, so she and A.C. woke up around 7:30 a.m. that morning. Danielle got ready for her appointment and A.C. woke Santillan up before Danielle left. Danielle was gone for about an hour, and A.C. was acting normal before Danielle left and when she returned home. Danielle watched cartoons with A.C. when she got home and then left for work around 10:30 a.m. Santillan was the only person with A.C. and J.S. after Danielle left for work.

         ¶7 About three hours later, at 1:19 p.m., Santillan called Danielle at work. He told her that A.C. was shaking and cold and that she should probably come home. Danielle asked Santillan what happened, and Santillan said J.S. threw a plastic toy car at the back of A.C.'s head, after which she started acting strangely. Danielle left work and went home. A.C. was laying down, not moving, had vomited, and looked lethargic and pale-Danielle had never seen A.C. look that way before. Danielle called a nursing hotline and was told to call 9-1-1 for an ambulance, but Danielle decided it was faster to take A.C. to the hospital herself. Santillan suggested that A.C. looked tired and needed a nap, but Danielle disagreed and prepared A.C. for the trip to the hospital. Danielle drove A.C., along with Santillan and J.S., to the emergency room.

         ¶8 At the hospital, an emergency room nurse performed A.C.'s initial assessment. When the nurse walked into the exam room she observed A.C. laying on a gurney, cradling the side rail, facing away from her family, and not interacting with anyone. That behavior struck the nurse as unusual because children are usually afraid at the hospital and cling to their parents. A.C.'s eyes were closed-she was drowsy, subdued, limp, and would cry or whimper when touched or moved. The nurse observed that A.C. had a bump on the back of her head and some other bruises. The nurse was told that A.C.'s younger brother hit her in the back of the head with a toy car, and after that happened her extremities felt cool, she began acting strangely, and she vomited.

         ¶9 After performing the initial assessment, the nurse left the exam room and told Dr. John Kominsky (Dr. Kominsky) about A.C.'s injuries and behavior. Dr. Kominsky immediately assessed A.C., noted her altered level of consciousness, and ordered a CAT scan and a full-body skeletal x-ray. The CAT scan revealed a linear occipital skull fracture on the back of A.C.'s head and a contrecoup injury in the front left portion of her brain. A contrecoup injury is an injury that occurs on the opposite side of the brain from where an impact occurred. An impact to one side of the head causes the brain to move inside the skull, and when the head stops moving the brain hits the opposite side of the skull from the impact area, resulting in injury and bleeding. Dr. Kominsky activated trauma protocol; consulted with a pediatric intensivist; and ordered an IV, fluids, labs, and medication. The doctor then arranged to transport A.C. to a children's hospital in Denver where a pediatric neurosurgeon could treat her. While she waited for transport, A.C. remained lethargic and sleepy-hospital staff monitored her and gave her medication to control her vomiting.

         ¶10 Dr. Kominsky diagnosed A.C. with a skull fracture, brain hemorrhage, and child abuse. The child abuse diagnosis was due, in part, to Dr. Kominsky's concern that A.C.'s serious head injury was not consistent with the provided explanation of her younger brother throwing a toy car at the back of her head. The hospital contacted the police and Child Protective Services (CPS) based on the diagnoses and the staff's observations. Police arrived at the hospital, assessed A.C., and spoke with Danielle and Santillan. A CPS worker, Kathy Rogers (Rogers), also arrived at the hospital in response to the hospital's alert. Rogers observed A.C. and spoke with hospital staff, the responding police officers, Mitch, Danielle, and Santillan. Santillan told Rogers that ...

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