Prison 34.03.18 SMIRNOFF (3).JPG

The entrance to CCI Tehachapi.

A man who strangled another to death at the California Correctional Institution in Tehachapi in 2016 was found guilty by a Kern County Jury on Tuesday. 

Thomas Santiago was found guilty of second-degree murder and malicious assault by an inmate serving a life sentence.

"The effects of homicides against prison inmates ripple far beyond the prison walls," Kern County District Attorney Cynthia Zimmer said. "Any homicide occurring in Kern County will be aggressively investigated and prosecuted by the Kern County District Attorney’s Office."

On Feb. 12, 2016, correctional officers at the California Correctional Institution heard a noise coming from the cell where Miguel Alejo and Thomas Santiago were each serving a prison sentence. When the officers approached the cell, they saw the Santiago on top of Alejo, strangling him, according to a news release from the DA's office.

Officers attempted to subdue Santiago by flooding the cell with pepper spray. Santiago continued to strangle Alejo, so officers removed Santiago from the victim and from the cell. Alejo was pronounced dead an hour after the assault, the news release said.

The cause of death was neck compressions consistent with manual strangulation.

Santiago was serving a life sentence for attempted murder and was scheduled to become parole-eligible in 2023. He now faces a life sentence without the possibility of parole. Santiago will be sentenced Sept. 18.