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.
Then Haidl made a startling revelation. He said he told his son that admitting guilt is nonsensical. He said he told Greg, "It doesn't work that way."
And so the community watched the most vicious defense campaign in modern Orange County history. The rape victim and her family were tailed, harassed and smeared with a callousness you'd expect in military combat. Haidl spent untold dollars collecting dirt on the girl. The lawyers he hired called the victim "a slut" and "a trashy whore." His gofers managed to get Los Angeles Times columnist Dana Parsons to downplay the foreign objects repeatedly shoved into the victim's vagina and anus as little more than "kinky dildos." Haidl paid jurors from the deadlocked first trial to consult on the second trial.
(In a September 2005 letter to the county Probation Department, the elder Haidl wrote, "If I'm guilty of hiring a law firm to defend [Greg], then so be it. What parent wouldn't?")
Yet, when he hoped to influence his son's punishment, Mr. Haidl told the court, "The girl and her family are not my enemies and never were." He said Greg has shown remorse for four years. He turned to Jane Doe, coughed and said with a voice like gravel, "I apologize to you."
According to Haidl, the real villains in the case use pens and notepads, not Snapple bottles and pool sticks: they're the media. Reporters, he said, are the reason "everyone has been living inside a nightmare for four years . . . the damage that has been done to our family and friends is unending." Greg has been forced to endure watching the media "harass and torment his own family," he said. "But we don't need or want sympathy." He said those people who have criticized Greg are "nut cases."
"He's felt the pain for all four families," Mr. Haidl said, including the victim's family in his calculations. "He's been punished more than anyone can imagine."
The show for Briseño wasn't over. Greg's mother, Gail, also asked the court for leniency. She is the woman who hired a PI to post community fliers shamelessly identifying Doe in the weeks after the rape. (The fliers claimed to be posted by the victim's family but listed Mrs. Haidl's telephone number as the contact.) She filed a lawsuit against police officers who investigated the fliers and tore them down. But before the final sentencing, Mrs. Haidl was suddenly gracious. "[Greg] and I and the family are looking for a better society," she said. "A better community, that's what we all want."
Sitting with her family in the front row of the courtroom, Jane Doe, now 20 years old and wiser, looked away, shaking her head in disgust.
After the defendants wept and asked for probation, Briseño fired back. He shotgunned the main thesis of the defense: that Jane Doe had faked unconsciousness. She was "clearly completely out of it," he said before floating the idea of prison as punishment.
The defense niceties vanished immediately. Defense lawyer Al Stokke, who replaced lead trial attorney Joseph G. Cavallo, questioned any link between the rape and the victim's claim of mental anguish. Stokke also mocked the girl's physical injuries, finally conceding she was unconscious but then trying to use that against her. "There's [no pain] that is felt," he said, "because she was unconscious."
At a post-sentencing press conference, defense lawyer Peter Morreale called the judge's sentences "a bit excessive" and then took aim at District Attorney Tony Rackauckas. It wasn't the defendants, their families or the defense lawyers who should be ashamed of their tactics, he said, but Rackauckas.
"The way the prosecutor's office pursued this matter was unconscionable," Morreale said. "There was a political agenda that drove this case."
In answer to a reporter's question, he called the case "a witch hunt."
No, the outcome of the case was an appropriate rebuke to the Haidl defense team's preposterous attempt to rewrite California's rape laws. If their arguments had prevailed, it would no longer be necessary for a woman to give, say, oral consent before sex. Defense lawyer John Barnett, legendary in Southern California for representing cops accused of excessive force, argued that consent is implied if a man who penetrates a woman's rectum with a foreign object can do so without causing massive injuries. Only a willing sex partner could relax her sphincter muscle, claimed Barnett.
"Everybody lost today," he said after the sentencing. "There were no victors."
Since the guilty verdicts in March 2005, the defense team—downright joyous after the first trial's deadlock—has repeated Barnett's chorus. And while it's true that the three defendants, the victim and their families have endured excruciating pain since the crime, Barnett is wrong. There was finally a victor on the day of sentencing: truth.
For the first time, both Nachreiner and Haidl publicly abandoned their ludicrous claim that Jane Doe had faked unconsciousness after convincing them to film a necrophilia-themed sex video.
Greg went first. He's gained at least 80 pounds in the last four years and now wears glasses. His baby face and cocky smile were long ago replaced by a look of constant wariness. Reading from notes, he apologized to Doe and, apparently unable to see the craziness of his suggestion, offered to assist her in recovery.
"It was never my intention to cause you any pain," he said in a barely audible, slow cadence of a person on painkillers. "I wake up every day and feel bad about the people I've hurt. Someone was hurt because of my actions."
Kyle, whose face showed the most regret throughout the hearing, came next, apologizing to Doe for his "repugnant actions." In the back of the courtroom, his father Robert cried. "I accept full responsibility," he said. "What I did is not acceptable." The younger Nachreiner then said he'd found a calling. He wants to teach kids "positive things" when he gets out of prison. He looked at Doe and concluded, "My heart goes out to you."
Don Haidl, the man who'd funded the entire nightmare and still blames the media, sat staring at his knees. His left hand propped up his burgundy face. Maybe it was Nachreiner's words that touched him. Maybe it was the sense that, finally, no amount of money could keep his boy out of prison. Maybe he was thinking about the night his son said it was time to drop the lawyers, the lies, the attack-dog tactics and simply take responsibility, the same night the father told his son the "world doesn't work that way." Whatever Don Haidl was thinking in that moment in the courtroom, he lifted his glasses and wiped away a tear.