To prosecutors, Gregory Scott Haidl and his buddies are rapists, depraved teens who filmed themselves attacking an unconscious 16-year-old girl on a pool table during a summer night party in Corona del Mar.
Each could face 55 years in prison.
And that’s what eats at Don Haidl. He worries that if his son goes to prison, the scrawny 18-year-old won’t survive.
“If they send him to prison, it’s a death sentence,” said Haidl, an Orange County assistant sheriff. Haidl and his family try to remain optimistic. But doubt always creeps in. Because of the case’s notoriety, they say, they are virtually confined to his home -- where the alleged rape took place.
Haidl paints a picture of his son as “the most kind, caring, sweet kid you’d ever meet in your life.” He says he believes his son is guilty of nothing more than acting thoughtlessly.
“They’re all basically good kids who got themselves into a stupid, terrible situation,” Haidl said.
It’s a vastly different depiction from how prosecutors have portrayed the young man and his friends.
They contend that during the 2002 Fourth of July weekend, the trio videotaped themselves raping the girl on a pool table and sodomizing her with a bottle, billiard cue and cigarette. Haidl, Keith James Spann, 19, and Kyle Joseph Nachreiner, 19, were arrested after someone turned the footage over to police. In a scathing rejoinder to defense attorneys’ in-court characterization of Gregory Haidl as an innocent bystander, Deputy Dist. Atty. Brian Gurwitz recounted the activities purported to be shown on the video.
“Gregory Haidl himself, by his own ‘little boy’ hands, inserted various objects in the girl and helped his friends do the same,” Gurwitz told the judge. “It’s his camera. It’s in his house. He’s the one who’s in the best position to stop what’s going on here.”
The defense has argued that the sex depicted on the video was consensual and that in the days before the gathering the girl had willingly engaged in sexual activities with all three.
Jury selection is scheduled to end this week, and testimony, which could last two months, is expected to start May 3.
Through their attorneys, the other defendants and their families declined to be interviewed. The accuser and her family, through their civil attorney in a pending lawsuit in San Bernardino County, also declined to comment.
The three teens were arrested between their junior and senior years. Along with the accuser, they attended Rancho Cucamonga High School.
The defendants have been free on $100,000 bail each since shortly after their arrests. Haidl finished high school through home study, walking at the graduation ceremony with the senior class of San Clemente High School.
He then took classes at Saddleback College, his father said, but withdrew after, he said, other students made cruel comments and an instructor stared at him while telling the class that rapists should be castrated. He tried volunteering at a charity thrift store, the father added, but quit after a customer recognized him and criticized the manager for letting him work there.
Now, Don Haidl said, his son mostly stays at home, at his house or with his mother in the Orange County house where she moved after the arrest. Sometimes the son works as a handyman at the apartment buildings his multimillionaire father owns. The father said that, at his request, the teen spends less and less time with friends.
In March, his son was cited for trespassing while allegedly skateboarding at a vacant Laguna Niguel restaurant. In October, he and two friends were stopped while skateboarding in a parking lot in San Clemente, and a small bag of marijuana was allegedly found in a friend’s car.
In both incidents, Haidl said, his son wasn’t thinking.
“Upset’s not the word for how I reacted,” he said. “I went nuclear. That was sheer stupidity.”
The incident involving the marijuana sparked a continuing grand jury investigation into whether the son received favorable treatment and into whether deputies tried to cover up the incident.
Because of the elder Haidl’s position in the Sheriff’s Department, the father said he shoulders much of the blame for what happened and the ensuing publicity. He has scaled back significantly at work to devote himself to his son’s situation.
Newspaper and television reporters have provided almost gavel-to-gavel coverage of the pretrial motions in the case, and a correspondent from the CBS series “48 Hours” has sat in on every session for a coming episode about the trial.
The dozens of newspaper articles and TV news reports about the case rarely if ever fail to mention the elder Haidl’s position. And stories about Orange County Sheriff Michael S. Carona’s recent firing of Assistant Sheriff George Jaramillo also mention the rape case because Jaramillo was recorded discussing on the phone a way to keep the marijuana case involving young Haidl from becoming public.
“I’ve got so much guilt that this case wouldn’t be the media circus it is without me,” the elder Haidl said.
He pauses and stares at his box of Benson & Hedges cigarettes. He swears to quit as soon as the trial is over, then lights another.
“Whatever happens to this kid,” he said, “I’m going to blame myself.”
He said he feels for the accuser. “It tears me up every day what that family is going through,” he said. “That poor girl and her family wandered into this media circus. I just hate to see them go through this.”
The defense lawyers won a motion to introduce evidence of her sexual history involving the defendants, although they will not be allowed to bring up other elements of her past.
“Lawyers have to do certain things to ensure success, but I disagree with some of the things they have done,” Haidl said. “Then I remember that we’re fighting for the lives of three boys. That’s got to come first.”
Throughout the trial, Haidl plans to be in the 11th-floor Santa Ana courtroom. He’s been there virtually every minute his son and lawyers have come to court in the last two years for pretrial hearings.
The only portion of the trial Haidl had planned to skip, he said, was the playing of the video for courtroom spectators -- something the judge has ruled out to protect the girl’s privacy. He hasn’t seen the video, nor does he want to, he said.
His baby-faced son, given to dressing his beanpole body in short-sleeved white dress shirts and khakis, usually clasps his hands in front of him and wears a look of keen interest during court proceedings. While being led to his preliminary hearing, though, he made obscene gestures at the media with his shackled hands.
Now, his father said, the only thing he has to hold on to is faith in the defense team, and he dreams of the day his son will be acquitted.
But outside court, the father said, the
guilt his son feels for what he’s putting his family through threatens to overwhelm him.
In the months immediately after his son’s arrest, the father said, the teen told friends he wanted to kill himself rather than subject his family to the humiliation of a trial. After that, a family member was with him at all times, and guns, medicine and knives were removed from the father’s house.
Although no longer that desperate, he’s far from the carefree teen he was before, his father said.
He said Gregory sleeps only an hour or two at a time, avoids newspapers and TV news and becomes skittish around police cars. The father said that even if his son was acquitted, he wasn’t sure what kind of life the young man would be able to have.
Recently, the teen told his father he doubted he would ever be able to have children and make his own family.
“I’ve never been a negative person,” the elder Haidl said. “But this one has buckled the whole family.”