Post Gay Threesome Laguna Beach Murder Trial Gets Underway
A homicide prosecutor has told an Orange County jury he will prove a special circumstances murder case against a young Lake Forest man accused of having sex with his victim one 2009 night and returning the following evening to rob and kill him.
Dragna is accused of murdering Laguna Beach hotel banquet manager after "kinky" threesome
Senior Deputy District Attorney Matt Murphy claims solid police work shows Matthew Thomas Dragna (and his lover, Jacob Anthony Quintanilla) murdered Damon Nicholson, a popular Laguna Beach hotel banquet manager, and then attempted to sell the victim's property to other hoodlums.
Murphy said in Wednesday's opening statement it doesn't matter which defendant swung the baseball bat that crushed the back of Nicholson's skull in October 2009 because Dragna and Quintanilla, who faces a separate trial at a later date, are both legally responsible.
But Frank Bittar, Dragna's veteran lawyer from the Orange County Public Defender's Office, told jurors that Laguna Beach Police Department detectives jumped to erroneous conclusions after his uneducated, inarticulate client, then a 19-year-old high school dropout, repeatedly lied during initial interviews.
"There's absolutely no evidence Matt laid a finger on that man [on the night of the murder]," said Bittar, who also used his opening statement to claim there is "no question" the lone killer was Quintanilla. "Common sense is critical here."
If the duo are eventually convicted of the crime, they could go down as two of the dumbest criminals in local history.
Murphy said the killers stole Nicholson's red, Sprint cell phone from his Laguna Beach apartment on Dolphin Way near Heisler Park and afterwards threw it in a trashcan about 12 miles away at the The Timbers Apartments.
Given cell phone tracking technology, the move quickly drew detectives to the apartments, which was where Dragna and Quintanilla lived with their mothers.
Evidence collected during searches additionally linked the two men to the murder, according to Murphy.
Bittar said Dragna and one of his older, male lovers visited Nicholson's home on the evening before the killing.
The men had a threesome that involved a "kinky" scenario where the victim liked to crack open his sliding glass door, turn off all lights, strip, place a hood over his head, get on his hands and knees on a blanket placed on the living room floor and wait for men to enter for relatively anonymous sex, according to the public defender.
The next night Dragna escorted Quintanilla to Nicholson's home only "to facilitate sex" for his pal because the man "gave good head," said Bittar, who claims Dragna remained inside a car and unaware of the murder.
Bittar concedes Dragna doesn't have "clean hands" because DNA evidence indicates he entered the crime scene to help Quintanilla remove Nicholson's property, including his laptop, in a trash bag.
That participation means the defendant was only an accessory after the fact, according to the defense lawyer, who apologized to jurors about what may be graphic sexual evidence introduced in the trial.
Nicholson's co-worker at the Hotel Laguna found him slumped over and face down on his white sofa after the usually punctual banquet manager, who lived alone in a two bedroom apartment, failed to arrive at work.
Murphy said the autopsy proved Nicholson had been "bludgeoned to death" with a "cylindrical object."
According to court records, Adam4Adam.com, a gay dating website, linked most of the men involved in the case.
The trial is expected to end inside Superior Court Judge James A. Stotler's Santa Ana courtroom before the Christmas holiday.
Dragna, now 23, has a criminal rap sheet that includes prior burglary and narcotics convictions, according to court records.
A judge scheduled a January 10 pre-trial hearing for the 25-year-old Quintanilla.