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
His son, Kyle, sat chained to the other Haidl case gang rapists awaiting punishment when Robert Nachreiner slowly walked to the podium in the Santa Ana courtroom. The disabled 50-year-old Montclair resident had come to beg the judge for leniency. The high stakes of the March 10 sentencing seemed to weigh on him. His face glowed pink, and the paper on which he'd written his speech trembled in his hands.
"It's going to take a lot to do this, but I'm going to do it for my son," he said, looking at Kyle, who had dropped his head to wipe away tears with a handcuffed right hand.
The most obnoxious people in any courtroom are often the family and friends—not of the victims, but of the guilty. This was especially true in the Haidl Three gang-rape case, which drew a steady stream of angry, rude and bizarre characters to the courthouse. Think Green Acres meets The Sopranos.
Throughout the ordeal, the elder Nachreiner sat quietly at the rear of the courtroom looking for chances to wave or nod to Kyle. Unlike others tied to the defendants, he never caused a scene, though he did once snort derisively when Jane Doe, the then-16-year-old victim, answered questions about her sexual history. He regularly packed his own lunches and brought them in a mini-cooler.
He arrived almost daily with the sports section, only the sports section, and avidly read baseball news during breaks in the trial. So it wasn't too startling when Mr. Nachreiner told Superior Court Judge Frank Briseño something seemingly unrelated to the gang rape.
"I coached [Kyle]," he said. "Baseball is very important to him and his whole family."
He punctuated the statement with a dramatic silence, staring at Briseño and slowly nodding. Was he trying to suggest that Kyle, a talented athlete, can't be bad if he loves something as wholesome as baseball?
"What he's done is inexcusable," he said. "But I know it isn't all my son. . . . I am as proud of him as I can be."
Then Mr. Nachreiner turned to Jane Doe and her family, apologized, and walked back to his seat.
It's possible he believed he'd performed his paternal duty: he'd stood by his son and displayed public sorrow for the victim.
If so, Kyle's dad fooled himself. Even at the end of almost four years of legal proceedings, he still couldn't bring himself to acknowledge his own terrible parenting mistake. He'd failed to demand that Kyle simply tell the truth from the outset—about his participation in the videotaped sexual assault of an unconscious minor; about the use on that minor of a Snapple bottle, lit cigarette, apple juice can and pool cue during a 2002 high school party in Newport Beach. Instead, he and his son chose treachery. Hoping to escape justice, they stood silent for 1,342 days while defense lawyers savaged the victim.
Judge Briseño, no fool, saw through the game plan, saying each defendant's late admission of guilt was mere "self-pity" generated more by fear of prison than genuine remorse. He refused the defense request for probation and counseling. Instead, he gave Greg Haidl, Keith Spann and Kyle Nachreiner six-year prison sentences. Each man will also have to register as a sex offender for life. The punishment could have been much worse. They each faced a maximum of more than 14 years incarceration.
Though reportedly a decent piano player, you'd never know Haidl appreciates finesse. More than once he called me a "motherfucker" in the courthouse. He hired a team of more than a dozen high-priced lawyers, including a former California Supreme Court justice, a stable of at least four private detective firms, a professional publicist, a full-time audiovisual expert and O.J. Simpson's jury consultant. His directions to that staff were clear: do whatever it takes to keep my son out of prison.
Those wondering why Haidl, Nachreiner and Spann would adamantly deny conduct clearly captured on videotape may find an answer in the elder Haidl's history. He's accustomed to controversy. He's also accustomed to getting his way.
In the 1980s and '90s, he was the target of state investigations into the skimming of as much as $1 million in taxpayer funds, fraudulent car sales and Mexican gunrunning. One of the cases ended after he paid a $104,000 settlement; another was dropped after a Los Angeles sheriff's deputy, who'd received jewelry, cash and a black Corvette from Haidl, intervened on his behalf. In 1999, Sheriff Carona named Haidl an assistant sheriff—after Haidl brought $400,000 to Carona's political campaign.
That part of his résumé didn't make it into Haidl's courtroom presentation. At the March 10 sentencing hearing, Haidl told the court he was "just a father" and praised his son's morals. "I was there when [Greg] wanted to get rid of all the lawyers and go to the judge, man up to this, and end this thing for everyone," he said.