VALPARAISO — A judge "reluctantly" granted a delay Friday in next week's rape and child molesting trial involving 54-year-old South Haven resident Robert Santiago.
The delay was sought by Porter County Deputy Prosecutor Rebecca Buitendorp, who said she learned this past holiday weekend the defense had access to two witnesses her office had been unable to locate.
While prosecutors were prepared to go to trial Monday without talking to the witnesses, there is now a need to interview them and explore what could be a dramatic change in their stories, she said.
Defense attorney Mark Chargualaf downplayed the change in stories and opposed the delay in trial, though wavered at one point while discussing it with Santiago.
Porter County Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Clymer, who questioned Buitendorp about the last minute timing of the discovery, said he won't be granting any further delays in the trial.
He said his staff and others at the courthouse had put in a lot of work preparing for what was supposed to be next week's trial. There were also 60 potential jurors summoned and some may have requested time off work, he said.
"People plan their lives around trials," he said.
The new trial date is Oct. 7.
"There will be no more continuances," Clymer said.
Santiago is charged with a felony count of rape and two felony counts of child molestation.
A girl told police she complied with Santiago's demands for sexual acts, in part, because she feared she would no longer be allowed to be friends with a relative of the man if not.
The girl told police Santiago began touching her inappropriately during hugs when she would visit his home in the 700 block of Juniper Road, according to court records.
While spending the night at his house in the summer of 2015, she said he began to fondle her and perform a sex act, at which time she "blacked out" because of the stress, police said.
The girl's aunt reportedly told police the girl was 12 when the abuse began.
Santiago is then accused of forcing sex on the girl later that same summer at his house, according to court records.
The girl said Santiago tricked her to come to his house in 2016 by saying her friend would be there, police said. He then performed a sex act on her.
"Although she consented, she did not feel that she had a choice," according to charging documents.