One of the suspects arrested and charged with the murder of a gay man at a public park in Phoenix, Arizona, has been linked to an unrelated homicide of another gay man earlier this year.
Leonardo Santiago, 21, has been charged with first-degree murder in the March shooting death of 20-year-old Osvaldo Hernandez Castillo, whose dead body was found inside a car in northwest Phoenix on March 20, reports local CBS affiliate KTVK.
Police who responded to the scene of the crime in response to an emergency call found Castillo had been shot twice, once in the back and once in the back of the head.
According to court documents, police were able to link Santiago to this murder when they accessed his cell phone following his arrest for the murder and mutilation of 30-year-old Bernardo Pantaleon.
Under questioning from police — and after being read his Miranda rights — Santiago claimed that he killed Pantaleon after “an unwanted advance made him uncomfortable.”
However, the investigation into Castillo’s death uncovered information leading prosecutors to believe that Santiago lured Castillo through the popular Snapchat app by arranging a sexual encounter with his victim.
According to court documents in the Castillo murder, Santiago said he arranged to meet with Castillo with the intent of robbing him, in order to be recognized and earn respect from his fellow members of the North Side 15th Avenue street gang.
The gang members had a group chat in which they reportedly made homophobic comments and asserted that homosexuals weren’t allowed in the city’s north side, which they consider their territory.
In August, investigators gained access to Castillo’s mobile phone. Data from the phone showed that Castillo used Snapchat to communicate. In a conversation between Castillo and an unknown user, police discovered that the two had arranged to meet up for a sexual encounter at 22nd Avenue and Mission Lane, which was the last location where Castillo’s cell phone pinged before his death.
Court documents claim that a person who was arrested in an unrelated case told investigators that Santiago posted a video of him killing another man while the man was seated inside a car.
Following Santiago’s arrest for Pantaleon’s murder, police were able to search Santiago’s phone, which contained the video of Castillo’s murder, according to Phoenix-based FOX affiliate KSAZ.
“On December 7, 2023, [Santiago] was interviewed at Phoenix Police Headquarters. [Santiago] confirmed he communicated with the victim using the Snapchat account,” investigators wrote in their report. “Leonardo admitted he shot and killed the victim. [Santiago] confirmed he recorded the incident with his cellular device.”
Santiago reportedly told investigators that the motive for Castillo’s murder “was to be recognized by others in the North Side XV gang, money, and marijuana.”
“[Santiago] also said he told the victim to ‘give me everything you got,’ and pointed the handgun at the victim. The victim attempted to conceal a cellular device, possibly attempting to call for help. [Santiago] then discharged two rounds from the handgun at the victim,” detectives wrote.
Police say they have determined that Castillo and Pantaleon’s murders are unrelated.
However, both men appear to have been targeted due to their sexual orientation, with the prospect of a sexual encounter potentially serving as a ruse for the murders.
According to court documents, Santiago posted in the North Side 15th Avenue group chat about his intent to kill Pantaleon, prompting fellow gang members to make derogatory remarks about gay people and demand that Santiago provide them with photos and video evidence of the killing.
Pantaleon’s naked body was found, with multiple gunshot wounds and significant external injuries indicating beatings or torture, at Mountain View Park. There is also evidence that his body was mutilated with a knife after his death. Four days later, some of Pantaleon’s family members received photos of the body on Instagram.
In addition to Santiago, police arrested 21-year-old Manuel Carrasco Calderon and 20-year-old Jose Rodriguez in relation to Pantaleon’s murder.
Recently, a fourth man, 21-year-old Christopher Ibarra Santana, was arrested in connection with Pantaleon’s murder, though police have been tight-lipped on what Santana’s role was.
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