In the first conviction of its kind in Orange County, a Huntington Beach man was found guilty Monday of second-degree murder in a drug-related incident in which an overdose was not the cause of death.
Jurors found Mark E. Taylor, 30, guilty of murder in the death of Adrian Obregon, 18, because the PCP that Taylor sold Obregon so incapacitated him that he was unable to save himself from drowning in the ocean off Huntington Beach.
Superior Court Judge Richard J. Beacom, who presided at the trial, told the jurors that the case is unique.
"There never was a case like it on the facts that were presented to a jury in this county and perhaps in the state," Beacom said.
Lawyers on both sides agreed that in previous drug-related homicide cases in which defendants have been convicted of murder, the victims had died of overdoses of drugs supplied by the accused.
Obregon drowned after going into the water off Huntington State Beach last April 29, according to testimony in the case.
Taylor also was convicted on eight counts of possessing and selling PCP to Obregon, a Montebello resident, and to three of Obregon's friends at the beach. Taylor's attorneys denied that their client sold the drug to Obregon or his friends.
Sentencing March 4
Beacom set sentencing for March 4. Second-degree murder carries a maximum term of 15 years to life in prison. Taylor could receive an additional five-year sentence on the PCP sales charges, according to Deputy Dist. Atty. Thomas J. Borris.
Although some jurors said afterward that they thought a lesser charge of manslaughter might have been more appropriate for the case, they said the evidence convinced them that Taylor was guilty of second-degree murder.
Borris said the district attorney's office "would like drug dealers to know as a part of the deterrent effect" that they could face second-degree murder charges even if death results from a cause other than an overdose.
"Is it worth it (for) . . . a few bucks to risk a 15-to-life sentence in state prison if the guy happens to die?" Borris said.
Taylor did not testify at the trial, but his attorneys, Peter A. Seidenberg and Jerry L. Steering, said they were considering appealing the verdict.
"Every felony murder case with drugs has been an overdose (case)," Steering said. One issue that could be raised on appeal is whether the drug sale was the "proximate cause" of the death, he added.
Steering said a doctor who conducted the autopsy on Obregon testified that the victim might have died from a wave that hurled him to the ocean's bottom before the PCP could take effect.
"We're very, very disappointed," Seidenberg said. "We do not think (Taylor) is guilty of murder. It upsets the accepted notions of what murder is."