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The Morning Call
Laurie Mason Schroeder Of The Morning Call
APRIL 10, 2018 7:05 PM
A mentally ill Allentown man who stabbed his daughter-in-law numerous times while they sat in a car at a traffic light was sentenced Tuesday to 7½ to 15 years in a state prison.
Lehigh County Judge James T. Anthony called the sentencing of Jose Santini Feliciano “a tough case, all the way around,” but rejected defense attorney Jack McMahon’s plea for a sentence of probation.
“This whole situation is very sad,” Anthony told the defendant. “Fortunately, your daughter-in-law is here, despite some very serious injuries.”
Santini Feliciano pleaded guilty but mentally ill in November to attempted homicide, aggravated assault and simple assault.
The attack occurred around 3 p.m. on Feb. 22, 2017, at Hamilton and 24th streets in Allentown.
Santini Feliciano, 57, of the 1000 block of West Walnut Street told the judge that he asked his daughter-in-law and wife to take him for a ride because he was having trouble sleeping and wanted to get out of the house.
The daughter-in-law, Melissa Mercado-Santini, was driving and Santini Feliciano was seated behind her, with his wife in the front passenger seat.
“For unexplained reasons,” court records say, Santini Feliciano pulled a folding knife from his pocket and began stabbing Mercado-Santini in the neck, back, chest and torso.
Passing motorists called 911, and numerous people rushed over to the car to help, including two paramedics who were in a nearby ambulance. They tended to Mercado-Santini’s wounds while other bystanders held Santini Feliciano down until police arrived.
Mercado-Santini had 19 stab wounds, including a puncture that missed her heart by 2 inches. She’s undergone two surgeries and may need another to address nerve damage in her hand, she told the judge.
Santini Feliciano’s wife’s hand was slashed in the attack, police said, and needed several stitches.
Mercado-Santini wept as she told the judge Tuesday of the panic attacks she still suffers as a result of the stabbing, especially when she looks in the mirror and sees her scars from the assault.
“I used to trust him. He was like a father figure to me. What he has done has left me scarred both physically and emotionally,” she said.
Despite her pain, Mercado-Santini told the judge that she forgives her father-in-law.
The sentence Anthony imposed was within state sentencing guidelines for the crime. In recommending prison, Chief Deputy District Attorney Jay Jenkins told the judge that the safety of the community must be considered.
“Given the violent nature of the crime, this sentence strikes the right balance,” Jenkins said.
Santini Feliciano wept in court Tuesday and told the judge he “snapped” just before the attack.
“Something was wrong with me,” he said. “I love her like a daughter. The last thing I’d want to do is hurt her.”
Santini Feliciano has no prior record. His wife and other family members told the judge that he was never a violent man before the incident, but had been struggling to adjust to medication he’d been prescribed for stress.
McMahon said his client has a history of mental illness and was taking several psychotropic medications, as well as drugs for several physical ailments, at the time of the incident.
“This was a mental breakdown, that’s what this was,” McMahon said. “Yes, what he did was criminal in its result, but there wasn’t criminal intent.”
In accepting the guilty but mentally ill plea, Anthony found that Santini Feliciano, as a result of a mental disease or defect, lacked the substantial capacity either to appreciate the wrongfulness of his conduct, or to conform his conduct to the requirements of the law. The finding is not the same thing as legal insanity.
The guilty but mentally ill plea ensures that Santini Feliciano receive treatment for his mental illness while behind bars.
McMahon said he accepted the sentence, but wished there was another way to manage people like his client.
“It just seems to be that the way we handle mental illness is antiquated and barbaric,” he said. “We should be better than that. We should be beyond that, as a society.”
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