Mansion-slaying case: Clues on cellphone put suspicion on victims' son

Mansion-slaying case: Clues on cellphone put suspicion on victims' son
An Orange County Sheriff's Department member searches for a weapon and evidence in February near the mansion where a San Juan Capistrano couple were killed. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

A college dropout accused of gunning down his parents in February as they slept in their San Juan Capistrano mansion became a suspect in the double homicide only after authorities unearthed clues on his cellphone, according to a just-released grand jury transcript.

Ashton Sachs, 20, had looked up Wikipedia articles on the different degrees of murder, searched for airline tickets and made arrangements to have his car transported back to Seattle, where he lived, the transcript said.

Working with those clues, authorities said they determined Sachs had fatally shot his parents and left his 8-year-old brother paralyzed after scaling a wall outside the mansion and breaking into the house, according to the transcript.

Sachs is facing charges of murder and attempted murder and could be eligible for the death penalty.


The transcript, featuring the testimony of authorities who appeared before the grand jury, offers the first detailed look at a crime that stunned the quiet, upscale neighborhood where Sachs' parents and his siblings lived.

According to the transcript, Sachs, described as sleep-deprived and depressed, parked his white Toyota Prius at the bottom of his parent's gated three-story mansion and picked up a loaded rifle and scaled the wall around the home.

The front door was unlocked, and Sachs walked upstairs where he paced for about 15 minutes, debating whether he could really go through with his plans to kill his parents or if he should just kill himself instead, the document says.

Finally, according to the transcript, Sachs walked into his parents' bedroom, shot his mother eight times and his father seven before running to his little brother's room and shooting the 8-year-old twice, leaving him paralyzed.

Wearing a beanie and gloves, he then slammed open his 17-year-old sister's bedroom door and fired a single shot in her direction, missing her, the document says.

Sachs then walked back to his Prius, drove to his parents business in San Juan Capistrano and had a taxi pick him up before boarding a flight at John Wayne Airport for Seattle, according to the transcript.

Justin Montano, an investigator with the Orange County Sheriff's Department, testified that Sachs told authorities that he had been feeling "horrible," believing he had messed up his life, and wanted to kill his parents because he blamed them for how he felt.

"He said that he felt like his parents didn't trust him and that he was the least favorite child out of the family," Montano testified.

Sachs also told authorities that he was upset that his parents didn't take a suicide attempt in 2013 seriously or acknowledge it, according to the transcript.

He said it was his third suicide attempt, according to the grand jury document.

Initially Montano said investigators suspected everyone, including Sachs' two younger sisters. It would be Sachs' cellphone records that would lead authorities to arrest him.

A Web page for American Airlines as well as a number of Wikipedia articles on degrees of murder, such as attempted murder and felony murder, were viewed on Sachs' phone, Montano said.

Investigators testified that they were also able to determine that Sachs had arranged for a company to pick up his car from his parent's business in San Juan Capistrano and deliver it to him. The vehicle, registered to Sachs, was eventually recovered in Seattle, along with the rifle, a magazine and bullets left inside it, according to the grand jury transcript.

Both of Sachs' sisters testified during the grand jury proceedings. The 17-year-old at whom he allegedly shot said she heard her door slam open followed by a single shot before the assailant, whom she didn't see, fled.

She said she stayed in bed until she heard her younger brother calling for help and went to find him. He had made his way to the hallway outside of his bedroom.

"He was bleeding. He couldn't feel his legs," the sister said.

The sister said she went to her parents room and tried to wake them up.

Investigators found a total of 24 bullet casings inside the San Juan Capistrano home.

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