What to Know
- A homeless man charged in the beating deaths of four men as they slept on Chinatown streets says he has no memory of the assault
- "I don't understand the charges or why I am here," he said in an interview with the NY Times, blaming a language barrier for the confusion
- He's accused of bludgeoning Chuen Kok, Anthony Manson, Florencio Moran and Nazario Vásquez Villegas to death with a metal pipe on Oct. 5
A homeless man charged in the beating deaths of four men as they slept on Chinatown streets says he has no memory of the assault.
"I was looking for bottles for cash," Randy Santos told The New York Times in a jail interview published Monday. "I needed the money because I was living on the streets and at an abandoned building. That's all I remember."
Santos, 24, has pleaded not guilty to murder and other charges, but prosecutors have said he told police that he committed the killings in the Manhattan neighborhood on Oct. 5. He was carrying a bloodied metal pipe when arrested, police said.
"I don't understand the charges or why I am here," the New York Times quoted him as saying in the interview. The newspaper said Santos, who speaks only Spanish, blamed a language barrier for his confusion.
A Spanish interpreter was by his side at his arraignment in October.
The victims — Chuen Kok, Anthony Manson, Florencio Moran and Nazario Vásquez Villegas — were bludgeoned to death as they slept on streets around a square a few blocks from City Hall, police said. The dead ranged in age from 39 to 83, and three of the four men were homeless, police said. The family of Villegas told NBC New York that he was not homeless at all, but rather was "in the wrong place at the wrong time" after missing a bus from Chinatown that was heading to a casino.
A fifth man was critically injured.
In total, Santos is facing four counts of murder in the first degree, one count of attempted murder in the first degree, one count of attempted murder in the second degree and one count of assault in the first degree.
Santos has at least six prior arrests, including two on charges he punched a stranger on a subway train and choked another man at an employment agency, police said. He also was arrested in May after being accused of punching a homeless man inside a Brooklyn shelter.
"How could they let him walk free?" Andrea Dazio, an Italian investment banker who said Santos abruptly punched him in the face on the subway in December 2017, said to the Times. "I knew he was going to hurt other people."
Dazio, who was vacationing in New York with his family, said he told prosecutors he was willing to testify against Santos but was never called.
The Manhattan district attorney's office said the case was dismissed and sealed.
The attacks came as New York City's homeless population has grown to record levels, and the homeless remain among the most vulnerable residents. In the past five years, an average of seven have been slain each year.
Mayor Bill de Blasio launched new homeless outreach efforts early in his tenure in an attempt to move more people off the street and into shelters, but the program has faced challenges. Right after the attacks, his office announced it was stepping up outreach efforts, particularly in Chinatown and the surrounding neighborhoods.
Advocates for the homeless have argued that that's not enough — and are calling on the city to build more shelters. The city's efforts to do so have dragged due to neighborhood opposition.