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Santiago gets life term for killing Officer Trench

Wilfredo Santiago stood stoically still yesterday when a second Common Pleas jury convicted him of first-degree murder in the killing of Police Officer Thomas Trench 23 years ago.

Wilfredo Santiago stood stoically still yesterday when a second Common Pleas jury convicted him of first-degree murder in the killing of Police Officer Thomas Trench 23 years ago.

The short man with a mustache and tinted glasses slightly shook his head when the jury forewoman announced him guilty of a second charge - possession of an instrument of crime.

As the verdicts came in, Trench's two daughters and other family members held hands. They cried and smiled with relief when the decisions were read.

The jury's verdict fittingly came the day after Memorial Day, Assistant District Attorney Carlos Vega said in court.

Trench, 43, was shot to death about 2 a.m. May 28, 1985 - the day after Memorial Day - as he sat in his patrol car on 17th Street near Spring Garden.

Vega said in court that the officer's daughters can now finally "put their dad to rest."

Later, he told reporters that Trench's wife, who had endured the first trial, did not attend the retrial because "it was just too much for her emotionally."

The jury reached the verdicts on its sixth day of deliberations.

Following the verdicts, Common Pleas Judge Renee Cardwell Hughes sentenced Santiago, now 44, to a mandatory sentence of life in prison without parole.

The judge noted that Santiago had rejected an offer to plead guilty to third-degree murder because it would not have been in return for a sentence of concurrent time in another case for which he is serving time.

Santiago's rejection of the plea offer "absolutely reflects [his] unwillingness to accept responsibility in this case," the judge said.

In a sign that this case will not be totally over for the Trench family, defense attorneys said afterward they plan to appeal.

David Rudovsky, who represented Santiago with Thomas McGill and Bruce Franzel, said the defense thinks substantial "legal errors" were made in the case. He added: "Mr. Santiago continues to proclaim his innocence."

Annemarie Bachmayer, one of Trench's daughters, said afterward at a news conference at the Fraternal Order of Police headquarters that she hoped "this was the last time my family would have to go through this." But if this is appealed, "we'll be here as long as it takes. However many times, we'll be back."

Prosecutors contended that Santiago had intended to kill another officer, but shot Trench instead. The other officer had responded to a street fight in Santiago's Spring Garden neighborhood the day before the killing, and had chased Santiago.

Authorities said Santiago harbored anger toward the other officer because of the chase. That evening, the other officer drove patrol car No. 912. On May 28, Trench was assigned car 912.

The defense suggested to the jury that a sympathizer of the radical group MOVE killed Trench. Two weeks before Trench's slaying, police dropped a bomb on the MOVE house in West Philadelphia, killing 11 people.

Frank Bachmayer, captain of the 15th Police District, who is married to Annemarie Bachmayer, said of the defense contention: "The jury didn't believe it. Obviously we don't believe it."

In 1986, a jury had convicted Santiago of first-degree murder, then sentenced him to life in prison instead of death.

After defense appeals, the state Superior Court in 1991 ordered a new trial based on trial-judge and police errors. In 1992, Santiago's defense, alleging prosecutorial misconduct, moved to dismiss all charges. A judge granted the motion and barred a retrial.

The District Attorney's Office then appealed that ruling.

Santiago had been out of custody from 1992 until 2003, when another judge revoked his bail in a domestic-violence case in which Santiago beat his common-law wife. In 2004, this judge sentenced Santiago to 21 to 42 years on aggravated-assault and related charges in the beating case. *