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3 Guilty of Sexual Assault in O.C. Gang-Rape Retrial

Times Staff Writer

In a gang-rape trial that transfixed much of Southern California, an Orange County jury Wednesday convicted the teenage son of a wealthy former assistant sheriff and two friends of sexually assaulting an intoxicated 16-year-old girl as they videotaped the incident.

The videotape and sordid details of teen sex in Corona del Mar, a tony Newport Beach enclave, drew national attention to the July 2002 crime, which first played out last summer, when a jury deadlocked.

“The message is that there will not be open season on young women,” said Orange County Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas after the verdict was rendered.

Gregory Haidl, 19, Kyle Nachreiner, 20, and Keith Spann, 20, were convicted of sexual assaults using a variety of objects. Jurors, however, did not hand down guilty verdicts on rape charges.

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As the verdicts were read, the three defendants and their relatives gasped, wept and shook their heads. After the hourlong hearing, Gail Haidl, the mother of one defendant, needed to be supported in a courthouse elevator and could be heard wailing in anguish after the doors closed.

“Justice prevailed finally,” said Sheldon Lodmer, a civil attorney who represents the victim.

The guilty verdicts come nine months after another jury deadlocked on whether the three teens were guilty in the attack, which occurred at the home of businessman Donald Haidl, a former Orange County assistant sheriff and father of defendant Gregory Haidl.

The case gained notoriety because of the lurid videotape -- shown to the jury but not the public -- and aggressive efforts by defense attorneys to paint the victim as a would-be porn star who pretended to be unconscious in the video for dramatic effect.

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Haidl faces up to 18 years in prison, Nachreiner 14 years and Spann 16 years. They also will be required to register with authorities as sex offenders. Sentencing is set for May 20.

Had each young man been convicted on all nine felony counts, each could have faced 23 years in prison.

The defendants and their accuser, identified during the trial as Jane Doe, lived in Rancho Cucamonga at the time. Haidl has been in jail since November. Nachreiner and Spann, who had been free on bail, were led out of the courtroom with their hands cuffed behind their backs, as distressed family members watched.

Jurors deliberated 18 hours over four days before delivering their decisions to Superior Court Judge Francisco P. Briseno in Santa Ana. They convicted Haidl on six felony charges, Nachreiner on four and Spann on five.

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The jury returned seven not guilty verdicts and deadlocked on five counts of rape and oral copulation. All three defendants were acquitted of assault with a deadly weapon.

“The jury did a very good job of looking through the smoke, looking at the facts and weighing the evidence,” said Chief Assistant Dist. Atty. Chuck Middleton, who said the case was his last. “I am satisfied with the verdicts.”

It was unclear why jurors convicted on some charges but not others, inasmuch as all the alleged sex crimes are shown on the videotape, attorneys say. Further, the verdict did not appear to settle the question of whether the victim was unconscious.

One juror, who requested that her name not be used, said the jury concluded that the victim had not given consent even though they dismissed her testimony as not credible. She said some of the charges fell by the wayside because jurors disagreed over whether the youths clearly understood that the girl was so incapacitated she could not give her consent.

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“We were hung up on the mind set of the boys,” the juror said, “what they should have known or didn’t know or mistakenly knew.”

Haidl, Nachreiner and Spann arrived at the courthouse with red, teary eyes. With dozens of family members and reporters gathering in the hallway outside, Nachreiner dropped into a crouch and clasped his hands in prayer.

As the court clerk read the verdicts, the defendants cried and Haidl bit his lip. Nachreiner threw his arms in the air, shook his head, then lowered it onto the defense table.

In the crowded courtroom, relatives and acquaintances of the defendants and the victim openly wept. Donald Haidl, who had resigned his assistant sheriff’s post to spend more time with his son, put his hand under his glasses and wiped away tears as a family member hugged him from behind.

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“Oh, God, no,” Spann’s grandmother groaned.

Leaving through the courthouse lobby, Nachreiner’s mother collapsed and was treated by paramedics.

Unlike the initial trial, when the high-profile criminal lawyers were loquacious and appeared almost buoyant when jurors deadlocked, defense attorneys on Wednesday were somber.

“I’m disappointed,” said John Barnett, Nachreiner’s attorney. “It was a great disappointment that they were charged with any crimes. But everyone knew this day might come. It’s a tragedy for everybody.”

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Most jurors declined to discuss the case as they were escorted to the courthouse parking garage by two bailiffs. Many appeared exhausted.

“It was a very difficult time for all of us,” said juror Chuck Milam, 68, of Cypress. “All I can say is that the verdict stood for what we believed after considering all of the evidence.”

The videotape was apparently left by one of the boys at a rented beach house and found by a girl. After viewing what she believed to be a dead female, she called police.

The defense applied the seemingly out-of-fashion tactic of attacking the victim, portraying her in court as a sexual predator who feigned unconsciousness as part of her desire to make a pornographic video.

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The strategy worked in the first trial last summer, when deadlocked jurors mostly favored acquittal.

In the retrial, the prosecution urged the eight-man, four-woman jury to focus on the videotape during their deliberations. They dropped accusations that the accuser was listless because of a “date rape” drug and argued that the video showed her simply as passed-out drunk.

“The tape was key,” said Middleton, who accused Haidl of being the film’s “maestro.” “The video shows three young men taking advantage of an intoxicated girl in ways that were very ugly.”

The public has not been allowed to view the 21 minutes of footage, but according to various courtroom descriptions, it starts with the victim on a couch and ends with her on a tan-felt pool table after the boys sexually assault her with a pool cue.

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After a few brief utterances at the beginning, the girl is not heard again. The boys are heard giggling and swearing as lurid rap music blares in the background.

The victim testified that her recollection of the night’s events stopped after she drank a beer, took a hit of marijuana and gulped down 8 1/2 ounces of 94-proof gin, all within half an hour. She said she did not consent to sex before passing out.

Lodmer, the victim’s attorney, said his client, who is now 19, was stunned when she saw the videotape for the first time before the second trial.

“She was horrified. Until she saw it, she had no comprehension what these guys had done,” Lodmer said. “It’s going to be a long road getting her better, but we’re going to try.”

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Haidl has been held in county jail since November, after a series of brushes with the law that include a statutory rape charge related to another 16-year-old girl he met at a party the night of the mistrial.

Briseno revoked bail for Nachreiner and Spann on Wednesday, saying the young men were potential flight risks, represented a public threat and faced possible prison sentences.

Contributing to this report were Times staff writers H.G. Reza, Jean O. Pasco, Rachana Rathi, Joel Rubin, Mai Tran, Dan Weikel and Kimi Yoshino.

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Retrial verdicts

Three defendants in an Orange County gang-rape trial were found guilty Wednesday on several felony sexual assault charges and are scheduled to be sentenced May 20. Each of the sex-related charges involved intoxication.

Gregory Haidl, 19: Guilty of six counts of sexual penetration. He faces a maximum 18-year prison term. He was found not guilty of assault with a deadly weapon. The jury deadlocked on charges of oral copulation and rape.

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Keith Spann, 20: Guilty of five counts of sexual penetration. He faces a maximum 16-year prison term. He was found not guilty of a sixth sexual penetration charge and of assault with a deadly weapon. The jury deadlocked on oral copulation and rape.

Kyle Nachreiner, 20: Guilty of four counts of sexual penetration. He faces a maximum 14-year prison term. He was found not guilty of rape, sexual penetration and assault with a deadly weapon. The jury deadlocked on oral copulation.

Los Angeles Times


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