Slaying suspect has mental ills, kin say — (The Press-Enterprise)

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The Press-Enterprise

12:05 AM PDT on Friday, July 30, 2004

By SONJA BJELLAND / The Press-Enterprise

SORROWS: As a family mourns a grandmother, it fears for the grandson arrested in her death.

Family members said Thursday that a man deputies accuse of killing his grandmother wrestles with mental illness.

Robert Santios remained in lockdown at the Southwest Detention Center in French Valley on Thursday after his arraignment was continued to Thursday.

Lorena Ochoa, his aunt, said she is worried about what might happen to the boy she helped raise after Santios’ mother was shot dead when he was about 7. In the past five years, signs of mental illness have become clear, she said. Ochoa said Santios has been in and out of mental-health facilities and was supposed to be taking Prozac and Zoloft for depression.

Riverside County sheriff’s deputies arrested Santios on Tuesday. They said he beat Mary Marruffo after she accused him of eating one of the Meals-on-Wheels lunches delivered to the San Jacinto home they shared. Sgt. John Schultz said Santios was articulate when they interviewed him.

“He was well within his faculties as far as we were concerned,” he said by phone.

Marruffo was on life support for about 12 hours after the beating. Santios was arrested Tuesday evening.

Santios referred to his grandmother as Tutu, the traditional word for grandmother. Family members had been trying to find a mental facility for Santios before he was arrested.

“He was a sick young man,” Ochoa said. “We all loved him and tried to help him.”

When the family learned that Marruffo had been hospitalized, they began looking for Santios because they feared he had left. Now Ochoa is worried about Santios receiving proper medicine and care at the jail.

Santios lived with both Ochoa and her eldest daughter, Rosemaria Vasquez, for short stints. Both said Santios always went back to his grandmother.

“All she wanted for him was for him to have a good life and live right,” she said. “He did things that hurt her, but she had an unconditional love for him. She tried everything … She loved him so much there were no words to describe this.”

The Redlands High School graduate, who is now 23, also had problems with alcohol and methamphetamines, Vasquez said.

“He didn’t have a normal childhood,” Vasquez said by phone. “He grew up angry. He was always angry.”

During the two months that Santios lived with her in 2001, Vasquez took him to a facility in Riverside because he talked to himself and told her he needed help. Three days later, he left and went to find his grandmother.

Services today

On Thursday evening, relatives met at Wiefels and Son Mortuary in Banning for a viewing. Today at noon, family and friends will remember Marruffo with a service at the Torres Martinez Indian Reservation in Thermal. That service will be followed by a traditional Native American wake, where bird singers will sing all night.

On Saturday, the Rev. Kelly Price will conduct a Christian service from 8 to 9 a.m. before burial at the reservation. Then three doves will be released to symbolize God, Jesus Christ and and the Holy Spirit.

Marruffo is survived by her husband, Melvin; daughters Andrea Fuentes and Lorena Ochoa; sons George and Marvin, all of San Bernardino, as well as 15 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren. She also raised two of those grandchildren, Robert Santios and his brother, Anthony Balleteros.

Two of her children, Roy Marruffo and Loretta Marruffo, preceded her in death.

Reach Sonja Bjelland at (909) 763-3464 or sbjelland@pe.com