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Bulloch Local News

Saldano Brothers Acquitted of All Charges After Two Day Trial

After more than two years in the Bulloch County Jail and two trials that had them facing three life sentences, Danny Joe and Vincent Saldano are back home with their families. 

The case concluded this week after a two day trial before a jury that deliberated for just one hour and ten minutes. 

Background

Both cases stem from incidents that were alleged to have taken place at GotInk! Tattoo in Statesboro. 

Danny Joe was arrested on August 29, 2019 after a three-day investigation stemming from a victim report made with the Statesboro Police Department. Two females made claims about acts during or immediately following the tattoo process at Saldano’s shop on South Zetterower Avenue, though they occurred almost two years apart. A grand jury subsequently indicted DJ on two counts of Aggravated Sexual Battery in 2019.

Vincent Saldano was indicted in 2019 as well, but on one count of Rape. The claims made against him were by one of the same individuals from his brother’s charges, which reportedly occurred in October 2017. A bench warrant was issued and he turned himself in in early November.  

Both Danny Joe and Vincent awaited trial behind bars, having been denied bond by Ogeechee Judicial Circuit Superior Court judges on a number of occasions despite both accusers having relocated outside of the region over the two-year period. 

Danny Joe Saldano’s case was tried before a jury and Judge Peed in March of 2021, but the jury could not come to a unanimous decision, prompting the judge to declare a mistrial. Upon the conclusion of the trial, defense attorneys sought bond, but it was denied as Totten reserved the right to try the case again. Meanwhile, Vincent’s case remained on the calendar for a jury selection scheduled for just a few weeks later. 

A Matter of Vindictiveness

After Totten failed to secure a verdict in the March trial, she announced that the State would again seek a conviction of Danny Joe Saldano and charged Assistant District Attorneys Judith Oglesby and Russell Jones with prosecuting the next round. But not before plotting another twist. 

The Monday after the Friday mistrial in Danny Joe’s case, Totten had the cases presented again and indicted them as co-defendants, something she previously promised public defenders she would not do. The collective indictments added an additional charge of Aggravated Sodomy and overlapped the brothers into incidents of alleged sexual assaults for which they were not present. That prompted defense attorneys to accuse the state of being vindictive in a formal motion filed before the Court. 

 “Failure to provide a meaningful, justifiable explanation merely confirms that vindictiveness is the State’s rationale for this reindictment,” the attorneys said in their filing, which called on the District Attorney’s Office to explain why it made such a move.

The Office claimed it was merely a matter of judicial efficiency and Judge Michael Muldrew sided with the State, saying there was no evidence of vindictiveness

Jury Trial

In the October trial, Danny Joe Saldano was represented by Que’Andra Campbell and Elyse Miller of the Public Defender’s Office while Vincent Saldano was represented by Rincon attorney Craig Bonnell. The jury of twelve was composed of eight white males, two black females, and two white females.

The State’s Case

Prosecutors presented testimony from the accuser, the detective who took her report, the nurse who conducted the examination at The Teal House, and two analysts from the GBI Crime Lab. Jurors also heard the recorded interview from the Statesboro Police Department back in 2017. 

During her testimony on Monday, the accuser said that Danny Joe touched her inappropriately during the tattoo process and repeatedly slid his fingers inside her underwear while she was in positions she found uncomfortable during her hip tattoo. She also stated that she was forced to give oral sex to Danny Joe Saldano before she was taken upstairs and sexually assaulted by Vincent Saldano. She told the court that she did not tell Vincent ‘no,’ and that the evening ended with him telling her he would ‘see her again soon.’ 

She testified that she went home, took a shower, went to WalMart, and then Bible study and Gnat’s Landing before she filed a report at the urging of a friend. Additionally, she explained that she initially signed a Waiver of Prosecution because of the stigma of rape, and she didn’t think there would be anything other than her word against his. She changed her mind several months later, she said, because she didn’t want to see it happen to someone else. She also said she was scared of the Saldanos finding out she made a report.

On cross examination, Bonnell asked the accuser what ‘force’ was used by Vincent in the rape, a legal element required for non-consenual intercourse to rise to the level of rape under the law. The accuser stated that Vincent was laying on top of her and he was 200 pounds. 

Campell told the jury that her cross examination of the accuser would be tough, but that she had an obligation to hold her accountable for her story given what her client was facing. The accuser had testified that she was scrolling on her phone and texting during the tattoo process, which led Campbell to ask her why she didn’t seek help if she was scared or uncomfortable. She also asked how Danny Joe forced her mouth open to force her to perform oral sex on him, to which she replied, “he didn’t.”

Jurors also heard from the detective to took her report and on the semantics of sexual assault examination specimen that is processed in the lab. 

Tuesday morning, another accuser testified about her experiences at GotInk as the state tried to make the case that this was a recurring theme with the Saldanos. The woman testified that she visited the shop on numerous occasions but on her final visit, was touched inappropriately by Danny Joe Saldano while he worked on a tattoo covering the side of her thigh up to her hip. She stated she was there for three and a half to four hours, during which time she was touched inappropriately repeatedly. On cross examination, Campbell asked if she ever said ‘stop,’ ‘don’t do that,’ or attempted to leave, to which the woman replied ‘no.’ 

After the State rested on Tuesday morning, defense attorneys asked Muldrew to issue a directed verdict on most of the charges. The state had charged the brothers as ‘parties to the crime,’ which defense attorneys argued was inappropriate based on the separate alleged incidents for which the other was not present.

Bonnell argued that a directed verdict should be issued for all three charges against Vincent Saldano because the Aggravated Sexual Battery amd Aggravated Sodomy claims did not involve him and the testimony to the Rape did not show that anything occurred against the woman’s will or by force. 

Campbell asked for a directed verdict on the Rape charge given that the sexual intercourse took place upstairs, outside the presence of Danny Joe, and for an acquittal on the Aggravted Sodomy because the woman admited that there was no force on the act. She stated she understood that the jury would still need to consider the Aggravated Sexual Battery charge given the testimony about touching, but asked for acquittal on the two others. 

ADA Judith Oglesby argued that the events were ‘continuous’ and the brothers aided and abetted each other in their actions, and ‘raised no objection’ to one another’s behavior. She said the state had met its burden and the jury should consider all of the charges against both defendants.

Muldrew denied the defense’s request and instructed the defense to proceed with their case.

Defenses Argument

Both Vincent and Danny Joe testified on their own behalf and the defense presented two witnesses to refute the state’s arguments. 

Vincent’s defense attorney argued that the accuser and Vincent did have sexual intercourse at GotInk! Tattoo, but that it was consensual and the accuser never said that she did not want to partake in the activity. Bonnell’s argument was that the accuser went to Bible study, felt guilty about what she had done, and decided to transfer that guilt onto Vincent Saldano. More specifically, Bonnell said the charges were not realistic for the evidence in the case.

Que’Andra Campbell’s argument for Danny Joe’s defense was that the allegations were competition-driven and arose after a former business partner left and started a competing shop across town. 

Defense attorneys presented two former employees from GotInk!, one of whom was fired by the Saldanos in 2018. Both testified that they were present at the time of the alleged events and didn’t see or hear anything out of the ordinary in the small shop that leaves most things ‘within earshot.’ They both testified that the accuser was in the shop on multiple occasions and on all of those occasions, expressed interest in Vincent, appeared ‘flirty,’ and was the one who suggested that she and Vincent get matching tattoos.

Jurors

After one hour and ten minutes of deliberation, the jury announced that they reached a verdict. NOT GUILTY on all counts for both defendants. 

Three jurors were outside of the courthouse after the verdict was returned Tuesday evening and spoke briefly with The Georgia Virtue. The three said that nearly everyone entered the deliberation room prepared to say ‘NOT GUILTY.’ A couple of jurors had questions about specifics of the charges, but ultimately, they determined that the state had not presented any evidence that the acts occurred with Danny Joe Saldano at all or that the acts with Vincent Saldano were not consensual. One juror said he couldn’t believe that the state offered no cross examination of the Saldanos while they were on the stand and said “if the accusations were true, the state “didn’t offer any evidence to prove it.” Another juror said he was familiar with the tattoo process and knows it’s very up close and personal, that there’s touching, pulling, pushing of skin. A third was struck by the element of the allegations possibly stemming from a tattoo shop competitor.

Further Action Required from the District Attorney’s Office 

Because there were two accusers against Danny Joe Saldano and one of the trials resulted in a hung jury in March, he was not released upon the ‘not guilty’ verdict. His release, due to his previous bond denial, would require DA Daphne Totten to state that she would not take the case to trial again or to consent to a bond in the interim.

She ultimately split the difference. 

After sitting on the matter for almost seven months, Totten filed an Order before Judge Peed to dead docket the earlier case, or remove the case from the present pending criminal cases in the court. While the case is suspended indefinitely, it technically can be reinstated at any time. In the order signed the day after the conclusion of the October trial, Totten cited ‘the lack of availability of a material witness’ as the reason for the dead docket. As a result, just after 5:00 p.m. on Wednesday, Danny Joe was also released from the Bulloch County Jail.

Jessica Szilagyi
Written By

Jessica Szilagyi is Publisher of The Georgia Virtue. She focuses primarily on state and local politics as well as issues in law enforcement. She has a background in Political Science with a focus in local government and has a Master of Public Administration from the University of Georgia. Jessica is a "Like It Or Not" contributor for Fox5 in Atlanta, a commentator on the 'Let Me Tell You Why You're Wrong Podcast,' and she has two blogs of her own: The Perspicacious Conservative and "Hair Blowers to Lawn Mowers." Sign up for her weekly newsletter: http://eepurl.com/gzYAZT

1 Comment

1 Comment

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    William Guill

    October 31, 2021 at 12:17 am

    Reading this article makes one wonder if this new D.A. has been “fishing” for evidence to cover her indictments in other cases, for several years. Holding these men in custody for all this time, only to be rightfully acquitted by a jury of their peers, appears to show an absence of credibility and integrity. This is frightful in so many ways.

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