Although there were heated moments during jury deliberations, Ruiz is proud his panel of "honest, decent people" could render a verdict after a deadlock in the first trial. "Man, I don't know what those people were seeing," he said of jurors in the first trial. "The tape proved they were guilty. If you show that video on the news, everybody's view would be that these guys should hang. People would go crazy. You know what I mean? It was primal. It looked like savages having their way with a piece of meat."
Married and a fourth-generation Mexican-American from El Toro, Ruiz can look physically intimidating. If you passed him on the street, you'd see a husky guy with a shaved head, a goatee, big dark eyes and a right arm full of tattoos. But in a three-hour interview, he was also articulate, perceptive and easygoing.
Haidl jury foreman Robbie Ruiz/ Photo by Jeanne Rice
But the case provided startling moments for Ruiz even outside the courtroom. During the latter part of the trial, he says, he was clumsily tailed by Haidl PI Warren to the Costa Mesa Inca Grill for dinner. One night, after the trial, two jurors from the first trial knocked on his front door. They wanted information to discredit the guilty verdicts. He says those ex-jurors, who were on the Haidl payroll, insisted the defendants are "really good boys."
Ruiz has a different view. He sees Spann as the guy "who was in the wrong place at the wrong time, but he didn't stop what was happening." He remembers Nachreiner as a seemingly temperamental fellow who repeatedly yelled "nigger" during the rape and the irony that he sat at the defense table next to Spann, who is part African-American. He says baby-faced Haidl was transparently coached to look naive and innocent, often posing with his head bowed and hands folded in something like prayer.
"If I had one word for the defense tactics, it would be 'overkill,'" he said.
Ruiz has his own unsung hero in the case: Doe's father, whom the defense had called as a witness in hopes of getting embarrassing revelations about the girl. "My hat goes off to the guy," he said. "He's a soldier. The way he stood up to Cavallo made it clear that what was done to his daughter was wrong. I'll have a lasting impression of that."
He plans to attend the sentencing hearing. "We did our job as a jury," said Ruiz. "We did what we were asked to do—reach a verdict. We did what each of us believed was right. Now I hope the court does its job, which is to hold those guys responsible for their actions."
To see the Haidl Gang Rape story archive, click here.