DALLAS – A Texas man accused of starving three children and confining them to a squalid hotel bathroom for as long as nine months was convicted Tuesday of injury to a child and sexual assault.
Alfred Santiago, 38, who spent most of the trial scratching notes onto a yellow legal pad, dropped his head and closed his eyes when the judge read the Dallas jury's verdict. He faces up to life in prison.
The trial moved immediately into a sentencing phase.
The children were gaunt and filthy when they were found by police in July 2009 in a hotel alongside a busy Dallas highway. A doctor who treated them described the children as having sunken cheeks and flaky skin and said they emitted a repugnant odor. Photographs of the children, with their ribs and spines visible through their skin, hung on a courtroom wall during much of the trial.
Prosecutors have said Santiago had sexually assaulted one of the children, a girl who is now 12.
Prosecutor Eren Price told jurors in her closing argument that the case was about isolation, hopelessness, suffering, torture and starvation.
"Mostly the evidence in this case has been about evil," Price said. "These kids thought they were going to die in that bathroom."
Another prosecutor, Carmen White, told the jury how the siblings would pray for God to rescue them.
"He starved those children," White said. "We don't let people treat animals that way."
Testifying in his own defense a day earlier, Santiago repeatedly denied sexually assaulting the girl, beating her brothers or denying the children food. He said he made them breakfast and lunch every day and that it wasn't his fault they refused to eat.
Santiago also said he could not explain why he had told investigators that he had awoken from naps to find himself having sex with the girl. He could not recall telling police that, he said.
His defense attorney, Richard Carrizales, acknowledged in his closing argument that jurors "couldn't just ignore the photos" of the starving children. Carrizales blamed the children's mother, Abneris Santiago, for denying the children food and suggested the youngsters' testimony about beatings and rapes was unreliable.
Each of the three children have different fathers. Alfred and Abneris have a daughter together who was 1 at the time of their arrest. She was healthy and unharmed.
Abneris Santiago's trial is scheduled to begin Wednesday. The former couple share a last name but were not married.