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Pinellas Park Man Charged with First-Degree Murder of Girlfriend

Luis Antonio Santiago was charged this weekend with the first-degree murder of his girlfriend, Belinda Joyce Thomas, in Pinellas Park. A friend reported that Santiago, smelling of alcohol and crying, pounded on his door and confessed to the killing.

The friend told police that Santiago had been despondent for weeks because he suspected Thomas was cheating on him. Santiago reportedly told the friend that he couldn't take it any longer, so he killed her.

Authorities allege Santiago and Thomas got into an argument that turned violent. Thomas and her three elementary school age children left the house. Santiago got into his Dodge sedan and chased them. As she neared a friend's house, Santiago alleged hit Thomas with his car. He then got out of his car and ran from the scene, according to Pinellas Park officers.

Thomas died at the scene.

Santiago and Thomas had been dating for about a year. Court records show Santiago's past includes trespassing and DUI charges. His most recent arrest was for domestic battery in 2010. He pleaded no contest and was sentenced to probation.

Friends and family reported that Santiago had a problem with alcohol. One friend indicated that Santiago had recently been involuntarily committed to a hospital for a mental evaluation after posing a threat to his own safety.

Santiago was reportedly arrested at his sister's home where relatives allege that he had tried to slit his own throat. He was charged with first-degree murder and booked into the Pinellas County Jail, where he was being held without bond.

Based solely upon the media reports, it would not be surprising if Santiago undergoes a mental evaluation before the case against him will proceed. Such an evaluation is to determine whether or not he is competent to stand trial (whether he is able to understand and rationally assist with the case against him). His defense attorney is also likely to consult with an expert to determine whether to assert an "insanity" defense (a determination by the jury whether, first, he suffered at the time of his crime from a mental disease or defect; second, if he did not understand the nature of his act, or, if he did understand, did not know that it was wrong).

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