NewsCovering Kern County


Man serving life sentence found guilty of strangling his cellmate to death

Posted at 6:27 PM, Aug 20, 2019
and last updated 2019-08-20 21:27:28-04

TEHACHAPI, Calif. — On Tuesday a Kern County jury found Thomas Santiago guilty of second degree murder and malicious assault for the death of his cellmate.

Court documents said that on February 12, 2016, correctional officers heard a noise coming from a cell at the California Correctional Institution in Tehachapi. That's where the victim, Miguel Alejo, and Santiago were each serving a prison sentence. Alejo was serving a six-year sentence for robbery due to a 2011 conviction.

When the officers approached the cell, they reportedly saw Santiago on top of Alejo strangling him. According to the documents, the officers attempted to subdue Santiago with pepper spray but Santiago continued to strangle Alejo before officers forcefully removed Santiago from the victim and out of the cell.

Officials claimed that life saving measures were attempted Alejo was pronounced dead an hour after the assault.

Alejo's cause of death was "neck compressions consistent with manual strangulation."

In a statement, District Attorney Cynthia Zimmer said:

“The effects of homicides against prison inmates ripple far beyond the prison walls. Any homicide occurring in Kern County will be aggressively investigated and prosecuted by the Kern County District Attorney’s Office.”

Santiago was serving a life sentence for attempted murder and was scheduled to become parole eligible in 2023. His sentencing for this conviction is set for September 18. He faces a sentence of life without the possibility of parole.