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Medford brothers get lenient sentences

Two Medford brothers who admitted to leaving a man shirtless and shoeless over a drug debt have the chance to avoid prison after a judge granted them requests for leniency.

Jackson County Circuit Judge David Hoppe Tuesday sentenced Ramon Jesus Santiago, 19, to probation and his brother, German Santiago-Meraz, 23, to jail and probation for the February 2015 robbery of a man who owed Santiago about $150 for marijuana. Both brothers were documented Norteño gang members, according to court documents.

On Feb. 24, 2015, Santiago approached victim Kyle Mello and ordered him to get in the back seat of the car driven by his brother.

Once inside, Santiago, who was in the passenger seat, ordered Mello to empty his pockets, then take off his shirt. When Mello hesitated, Santiago demanded Santiago-Meraz hand him a weapon, which Mello believed to be a gun but turned out to be a BB gun. Santiago pointed the gun toward the rear of the car and Mello complied with Santiago's demands.

After Mello removed his shirt and shoes, Santiago told his brother to pull over. Mello walked nearly a mile home without his shirt and wearing socks and notified police a few hours later.

Deputy District Attorney Alyssa Claseman said the next day, when police spotted the car involved, Santiago-Meraz engaged in a midday police chase. The car, which belonged to Santiago-Meraz's girlfriend, hit a curb at a high speed and shredded the tire. Santiago-Meraz then attempted to flee on foot.

The brothers' defense attorneys argued that both men have shown personal growth since the incident, and that sentencing them to prison would derail their progress.

Santiago's attorney, Donald Scales, presented to Hoppe a letter from Santiago's employer and described Santiago as an "exemplary worker." 

"He has come a long way since the incident," Scales said.

He mentioned hardships Santiago had overcome, such as the deportation of his father and the loss of an older brother in an auto accident. Scales noted that Santiago, who was 18 at the time of the crime, has had no incidents with the law since.

"I won't go back toward this route," Santiago said.

Santiago was sentenced to five years' supervised probation for felony charges of second-degree robbery and delivering marijuana within 1,000 feet of a school, to which he pleaded guilty April 1. Conditions of his probation include random drug tests and no association with gang members. Hoppe said he agreed with Scales' argument that sending him to prison had the potential to steer him toward a life of crime, but noted if he fails any terms of his probation, he will serve the 54-month sentence prosecutors sought. 

"I just think it's better for society," Hoppe said.

Hoppe did, however, express concern that Santiago hadn't fully learned his lesson in jail, because his mother had posted $10,000, 10 percent of what had been intended to be a prohibitively high $100,000 bail, mere days after his arrest.

Hoppe showed a degree less leniency with Santiago-Meraz, in part because his girlfriend posted $10,000 after he served just more than a day in jail, and partly, Hoppe said, because he should have "known better" at the age of 21.

Santiago-Meraz pleaded guilty April 26 to felony charges of second-degree robbery and attempting to elude police in a vehicle. Court-appointed defense attorney Justin Rosas said Santiago-Meraz has become a father, which has motivated him to change.

"Once again, I'm not sure sending you away is going to make you a better citizen or benefit our community," Hoppe said.

Santiago-Meraz was sentenced to 10 days in jail, five years' supervised probation and a one-year suspension of his driver's license. If Santiago-Meraz fails to comply with his probation, he will serve the prosecutors' requested 38 months in prison.

"You're going to do the 10 days," Hoppe said.

"Get out of jail and do good."

Reach reporter Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or nmorgan@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at @MTCrimeBeat.