Murdered over a bottle of Hennessy, Matthew Santana’s killers have their day in court.
Stroudsburg - It was to be the start of a long homicide trial. The jury was selected the day before; a process which took the entire day. The prosecution team led by First Assistant District Attorney Michael Mancuso spent the night before readying the courtroom for its multimedia presentation of the evidence. Witnesses, such as Melissa Harris from 911 Center, Tom Yanac the Coroner, Trooper Jesse Bachman who collected much of the forensic evidence at the crime scene, and others, nearly twenty in all, waited for their time to testify. Opening arguments were about to begin; then things started to feel different. "The usual tension and emotion you sense at the outset of a big trial wasn't there", said Mancuso. The defense attorneys were speaking in low voices among themselves. One of them approached Mancuso out of earshot of the jury, walking in the corridors outside of Courtroom One. A discussion began about resolving the case by guilty plea. The other defense lawyers joined in the discussion.
While the jury waited, Mancuso worked out the details of the guilty pleas. Each guilty plea had to take into account the different levels of involvement for each of the three defendants. Mancuso and his co-counsel, Assistant District Attorney Richard P. White, advised the presiding judge, the Honorable David Williamson, of the development and cautioned that no guilty plea would be agreed upon until discussed fully with the shooting victim's mother, who was present in the courtroom awaiting the start of trial. Judge Williamson graciously allowed for sufficient time to work out the details and added that he would be willing to have the sentencing hearing occur immediately after the guilty pleas were entered.
The charges arose out of two related events that occurred on the evening of Sunday, July 21, 2019, in A Pocono Country Place. Three young men, Mathew Santana, Angel Rodriguez, and Jonathan Nazario were at an outdoor pavilion smoking marijuana, sharing a bottle of Hennessy, and playing music loudly. They were drunk and high. Suddenly they found themselves confronted by several other young men. These were Davaun 'Snupe' Ewin, Shyheem 'Shy' Mitchell, Nasiem 'Nas' Mayo, and Malik Pruitt. The men were all close and fancied themselves part of the street gang known as the Bloods. Indeed, the investigators led by Detective Sergeant Lucas Bray and Detective Kyle Vannote, both of the Pocono Mountain Regional Police Department, analyzed extensive cell phone data extraction, Facebook records, witness interviews, and documents recovered during search warrants. All of these demonstrated a clear link between the defendants and the Bloods.
The defendants accused the men of bullying their 'Lil Bro', a 15 year old boy, earlier in the night. The defendants were aggressive and threatening. Matt, Jonathan, and Angel denied they bullied the kid. They also saw that two of the defendants, Ewin and Mayo had guns in their waist bands. At that point, Matt recognized Ewin as someone he went to school with back in 9th grade. Ewin also remembered they had been friends back then. The two 'dabbed up', that is shook hands. Everything seemed a bit calmer. Then Mayo grabbed the nearly empty bottle of Hennessey from the picnic table and claimed it. Jonathan protested but feeling intimidated by the armed defendants, let it go. The defendants walked off with their trophy bottle in hand. They headed back to the gang's 'trap house' within walking distance on Winter Drive. The three remained at the park for another ten minutes. They grew angry and felt disrespected. Angel and Jonathan would tell the detectives that they felt 'punked' by the defendants. They wanted to save face. Matthew was just as upset. They decided to 'get the drop' on the defendants, meaning they needed to find out where they were. They wanted the bottle back and were willing to fight for it.
They left the park. Jonathan and Angel drove to Emerald Lakes. There Jonathan went into his house to get something. Matt picked up a friend named 'Rel', short for Derel. He told Derel what happened and said he just wanted the 'Henny' back. Rel showed Matt where the house was on the Cul de Sac on Winter Drive. Matt took Rel home and met Angel and Jonathan just outside APCP in a lot near the Dollar General. Angel texted Ewin telling him that Matt wanted to fight his brother, referring to Mayo. They would all go to Winter Drive in Matt's car.
Meanwhile, the defendants were smoking marijuana, playing video games, and texting on their phones. They became alarmed the first time they saw Matt's car drive by. They felt someone was 'spinning' the house. After the first time, they exited the house to find out who was doing it and 'F them up'. They turned the lights off inside the house. Ewin had both guns and was crouching behind a tree in the front yard facing the road. Mitchell and Mayo were also hiding in the brush. The car returned to the Cul-de-Sac. Matthew Santana was driving, Jonathan Nazario was in the front passenger seat, and Angel Rodriguez was in the back seat behind the driver. They parked right in front of the house totally unaware that Ewin was only feet away aiming a loaded .357 Glock right at the driver's side window. Ewin asked Mayo and Mitchell several times if he should shoot. He would tell the detectives the car was parked there for a 'good minute'. In answer to his question Mitchell and Mayo told Ewin to 'bust it!" At that moment, Matthew was turned toward Jonathan asking him if he was going into the house with him. A bullet fired by Ewin shattered the window, striking Matthew in the neck, killing him. Another bullet struck the car door passing through it and entering Matthew's left side.
As more bullets flew, Angel reached over from the back seat with his left foot and was able to lurch the car forward. Jonathan jumped out of the car and ran away from the gunfire. Bullets continued striking the fleeing car. Frightened neighbors, crouching near floor level in their homes, began calling 911, telling the dispatchers that a shooting was in progress. Angel guided the car away from Winter Drive, crossing Pembrook and crashing into a drainage ditch in front of a home. He jumped out of the shattered car window and ran into the woods, leaving his sandals in the car. Matthew's lifeless body sat slumped over the steering wheel of the car. The engine still running.
Mitchell and Mayo each plead guilty to Robbery, a felony of the First Degree, for the taking of the Hennessey by threat of force and Conspiracy to Commit Voluntary Manslaughter, also a First Degree Felony. Ewin plead guilty to Robbery of the Hennessey bottle. As the actual shooter, he also plead guilty to Third Degree Murder. At sentencing, Mancuso offered into evidence a letter written by Matthew's mother. Mrs. Santana wanted the judge to read the letter. She did not want to speak at sentencing. Judge Williamson carefully read the letter and noted that Matthew was Mrs. Santana's only child. The impact of the crime on her was terrible. He also stated that the defendants were young men. They were going to go to state prison. He hoped that they would learn from this and be model inmates. Judge Williamson accepted the recommended sentences of 5 to 15 years in prison for Mr. Mitchell, 6 to 15 years in prison for Mr. Mayo, and 10 to 40 years in prison for Mr. Ewin. Although eligible for parole once he serves his 10 year minimum, most homicide offenders will serve over half of their minimum sentences before being paroled.
It was a challenging investigation and case involving many moving parts. In addition to the officers at Pocono Mountain Regional Police Department, special thanks is in order to both Assistant District Attorney Rich White and Detective Sergeant Wendy Serfass of the District Attorney's Office for their hard work and dedication.