A man freed after spending seven years in prison for the slaying of a police officer has been convicted again — nearly a quarter century after the killing.
Wilfredo Santiago, 44, will serve life in prison unless his lawyer wins further appeals in a case that has taken myriad twists and turns since the 1985 murder.
A jury deliberated over six days before reaching a decision Tuesday in the largely circumstantial case. Officer Thomas J. Trench, 43, was shot in the face and neck as he sat in his patrol car on May 28, 1985, but the murder weapon has never been found.
Trench's two adult daughters were in the courtroom for the verdict, which came a day before the 23rd anniversary of their father's death.
"After 23 years of going through this, the relief that he's found guilty again, it brings some sense of closure to our family, and some sense that our father can rest in peace," said daughter Annemarie Bachmayer, 42, who is married to a Philadelphia police captain.
Prosecutors called Trench's murder a case of mistaken identity. They argued that Santiago held a grudge against another officer who had previously driven the same patrol car.
Defense attorney David Rudovsky argued that investigators shaped their case to fit their theory that Santiago pulled the trigger.
"We're all very disappointed. He's maintained his innocence for 23 years," said Rudovsky, a University of Pennsylvania law professor. He plans to appeal some of the judge's rulings.
The first trial was marked by the prosecution's use of several jailhouse informants, recanted testimony and allegations that police tried to frame Santiago. He was freed by a judge in October 1992, citing judicial misconduct.
Santiago went to work at a Center City law firm. But in 1994, a Superior Court panel ordered a retrial. Further appeals and motions delayed the trial until this year.
In the interim, Santiago was arrested four times, and in 2004 started serving a 20- to 40-year sentence in an unrelated domestic violence case, Assistant District Attorney Carlos Vega said.