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Martin Santillan

Years served: 25 years

Location: Dallas, Texas

Charges:  1st Degree Murder

Sentence:  Life

Factors Contributing to Wrongful Conviction: Mistaken Identification

Date Centurion’s Involvement began:  2008

Date Freed: 2022

Case Summary:

Martin Lucio Santillan spent 25 years in prison for a murder the Dallas District Attorney stated he should never have been charged with committing. His capital murder conviction was based on an identification by a lone eyewitness, who admitted to drinking the entire day of the 2:00 a.m. shooting outside a night club in an upscale Dallas neighborhood. All the eyewitnesses agreed the shooter was wearing a Dallas Stars hockey jersey. DNA testing of the jersey in 2021 lead to the identification of the actual shooter and Martin’s release from prison in December 2022 and his exoneration in March 2023.

At the time of the murder on July 14, 1997 Martin was with members of his family and friends in a Hispanic bar in another part of Dallas approximately 30 minutes away from the crime scene. Six witnesses testified he was with them all evening, yet the jury convicted him based on the alcohol impaired eyewitness’s identification.

The actual assailant, in fleeing the scene threw away the hockey jersey he was wearing which was covered with the victim’s blood. Fortunately, the police were able to recover the jersey just a few blocks from the shooting In 2021 the Conviction Integrity Unit of the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office agreed to Centurion’s request to have additional DNA testing performed on the jersey and to reinvestigate the case. In 2008 and 2014 DNA testing of the jersey was unsuccessful.

The new testing revealed the DNA of two major contributors on the jersey, one male and one female. A search of CODIS, the national DNA database maintained by the FBI, revealed the identity of the female contributor, but not the male. Dallas police interviewed the woman who told them about an ex-boyfriend who frequently wore a Dallas Stars jersey back when she was dating him in July 1997. She said she remembered seeing him with blood on his hands one summer night. He told her he had gotten into a fight and thrown the jersey away. The man was located out of state in Colorado and his DNA was surreptitiously obtained by the local police and it matched the male DNA on the jersey. The man was arrested for the murder and he is currently in custody awaiting trial in Dallas.

After Martin’s release, he began working with Miles of Freedom, a Dallas organization which assists with job placement and reintegration. He spent a few months helping in their food pantry and working on landscaping jobs. Martin is now back living in Dallas near his family and doing his best to take it one day at time and to enjoy each day.

READ: Dallas County District Attorney’s Press Release

On Wednesday, March 22, 2023 Martin “Lucio” Santillan was fully exonerated in the Frank Crowley Criminal Courts in Dallas, TX

Mr. Santillan spent 25 years in prison for a murder he did not commit. DNA testing proved that Mr. Santillan could not have been the perpetrator of the cold blooded shooting that took a man’s life. While he was released from prison in mid-December, today he was exonerated and proclaimed innocent by the TX court system.

We are beyond thrilled for Mr. Santillan and looking forward to supporting him as he rebuilds his life. He is now the 70th individual that Centurion has freed over the past 40 years.

Below are a few pictures of Santillan’s exoneration day.