By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
Courtesy pool photographer
Ygnacio Nanetti/The Orange
County RegisterIn the seven months since their convictions, the Haidl Three gang rapists -- armed with a team of prominent lawyers, mountains of cash, law-enforcement connections and endless audacity -- might have seemed poised to escape justice. Superior Court Judge Frank Briseno has repeatedly allowed the defense to stall sentencing; entertained requests to transfer the case to a more lenient juvenile court; and, although he wasn't required to do so, closed punishment hearings to the public. Despite protests from prosecutors, the judge even made rulings in secret, invited a media request to make those rulings public -- and then refused to hear it. It was this series of events that gave Greg Haidl, Keith Spann and Kyle Nachreiner hope for a sweetheart resolution. But Briseno ended the festivities on Oct. 21 when he finally ruled that he'll sentence the 20-year-old defendants as adults.
It was a brutal blow to family and friends of the defendants. Just days before, they were so optimistic that they provided another odd moment in an already surreal case -- more than 20 of them happily posing for a group photo outside Briseno's courtroom. Nachreiner supporters from Rancho Cucamonga wore sunglasses inside the courthouse, giggled and then amused themselves by trying to intimidate a reporter.
Briseno's decision likely means the trio will go to state prison for the 2002 videotaped sexual assault of an unconscious minor during a Newport Beach high school party. But the judge also granted the defense one more lengthy delay. Sentencing is now set for Jan. 20, some 1,295 days after the crime.
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In the meantime, Haidl, Spann and Nachreiner will leave the relative comfort of the county lockup, where they've had the protection of Sheriff Mike Carona -- a Haidl family friend. Sources say they'll be bused to the state's notorious Chino Men's facility, where they'll undergo a series of evaluations.
At the Jan. 20 hearing, Haidl -- the son of wealthy ex-Assistant Sheriff Don Haidl -- faces a maximum of 18 years in prison, Spann 16 years, and Nachreiner 14 years. The penalties might have been worse but for a lone male juror who blocked conviction on one of the more serious rape counts. Nevertheless, prosecutors expect sentences of at least six or eight years. Upon their release, each of the Haidl 3 would have to register as sex offenders.
There's always hope where the trio is concerned: if Briseno concludes that their crime wasn't serious, he could still punish them with community service; probation; or, thanks to complicated rules, a stint in the California Youth Authority. Those gentler scenarios are unlikely. Since viewing Haidl's 21-minute sex tape in 2003, Briseno has made it no secret that he's disgusted by the contents, which he considers child pornography. He recoiled after defense lawyers once characterized the crime as an "innocent . . . sexcapade."
During the closed Oct. 21 hearing, the judge accepted the district attorney's position that the crime was not only sophisticated but also serious. He also reiterated his view that the defendants' conduct was "extremely sick," according to sources. After the hearing, the defense team privately acknowledged that they're close to exhausting their options.
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In March, a jury found the trio guilty of of putting a 16-year-old girl into a drunken, drug-induced stupor; stripping her; tossing her body onto a garage pool table; and then committing lewd acts such as ejaculating on her. The men filmed themselves repeatedly shoving a pool cue, Snapple bottle, lit cigarette and apple juice can into the girl's vagina and rectum. At several points during the video, they laughed and noted that the girl was unconscious. At another point, they felt her abdomen to gauge how far the pool cue had penetrated.
In the days following the crime, Haidl and Nachreiner screened the tape for buddies and then lost it. They panicked and searched, but the video was found by a woman who thought the trio had had sex with a corpse. She notified police. It seemed a straightforward case. It's unlawful in California to have sex with a person who is unconscious or unable to resist. And prosecutors had a video of the crime. But the Haidl defense team -- which totaled 12 lawyers, a stable of private detectives, O.J. Simpson's jury consultant, a full-time audio-visual technician and a public relations expert -- refuses to this day to concede any wrongdoing.
Most recently, Haidl replaced defense lawyer Joseph G. Cavallo with Al Stokke, a friend of the man whose office is prosecuting the case, District Attorney Tony Rackauckas. Stokke had been angling to replace the combative Cavallo for years but immediately and inexplicably followed in his misguided footsteps. One of Stokke's first moves was to recently argue with Orange County Register columnist Frank Mickadeit that the crime wasn't "a rape."
Observers of the case weren't surprised. For three years, the defense has shamelessly advanced contradictory theories. They've claimed:
-- The victim was a "slut" who "got what she asked for."
-- In an attempt to frame Haidl, police deleted exculpatory scenes from the video.
-- The girl faked unconsciousness after persuading the men to feature her in a necrophilia-based porno so she could launch an adult film career.
It's the kind of case you'd find amusing -- if you don't look too closely, if you're the kind of person who wears sunglasses in dimly lighted courtrooms.
Go here for the complete Haidl case archive.