[Moxley Confidential] The DA's Office Reacts to a Naughty Episode of Prosecutorial Misconduct
The Rapist, The Judge, the Lawyer and Her Lover
A disturbing rape case is headed for appeal—and the conduct of key officers of the court should have defense lawyers salivating
Drive by Harbor Court in Newport Beach, and you’ll see just another bland, two-story government building, nearly windowless, closely guarding its secrets. But once you’re inside, listen carefully. On occasion, you might hear a wild, true story of espionage, sex, violence and deceit that taints everyone it touches.
I have such a tale. If you’re faint of heart, stop reading. The facts of the case in question are repugnant, but the shameful conduct of certain members of OC’s justice system in the case—namely, the judge, the lead prosecutor and the lead police detective—is the real story here.
Let’s start with the main character whose conduct initiated the until-now-buried scandal: 43-year-old Metin Reza Gurel, a married Turkish citizen, a proud sexist and a convicted rapist.
According to court and police records, Gurel secretly placed a GPS device on a girlfriend’s car in late 2007, added spyware on her home computer, stole a key to her gated apartment complex, made a bomb threat against her and faxed a semi-nude picture of her to her office. After they broke up, he stalked her, phoned incessantly and, in a fit of jealousy, punctured one of her car tires while she was on a date at a South Coast Plaza-area restaurant.
Despite these warning signs, this lady agreed to visit Gurel at his apartment in hopes of convincing him to move on. He had other ideas. When she arrived, he shattered her cell phone with an illegally possessed baton, forbade her from leaving, heated a screwdriver on the and waved it around her body—threatening to maim her face and vagina so that, he stated, no other man would want to date her. He poured a glass of scotch and Coke, grabbed a lighter, and threatened to douse her with the cocktail and ignite her.
After ordering her to strip, Gurel forced her to perform fellatio, raped her repeatedly and ejaculated in her mouth. Later, when he got hungry, he told her to make him breakfast. She eventually escaped. Explaining his post-rape attitude to police, Gurel noted that in his native country’s culture, men control women—even “scare” them into obedience.
You may be delighted to know that Gurel is a current resident of Wasco State Prison. This summer, an Orange County jury at Harbor Court considered his defense arguments—the woman had been a willing participant in post-argument sex—and rejected it. After just 30 minutes of deliberations, jurors convicted him of seven felonies including forcible rape, stalking, criminal threats and domestic battery.
Yet fate—or was it plain callousness?—intervened on Gurel’s behalf. Although he faced up to 23 years and eight months in prison, the Orange County district attorney’s office requested a 16-year sentence given the severity of the acts and because this was his second domestic-violence conviction.
But here’s where the story turns bizarre.
After the verdicts, Superior Court Judge Derek G. Johnson not only dismissed the sentencing request by prosecutors, but he also mocked the crime in open court by calling it “a technical rape.”
“To treat this case like the rape cases that we hear about is an insult to victims of rape,” Johnson said moments after declining to punish Gurel on six of the seven guilty verdicts. “I think it trivializes rape.”
Johnson, who once worked as a sex-crimes prosecutor, gave Gurel 251 days pre-prison credit for time served in the Orange County Jail and handed him a relatively soft six-year sentence.
“What was this judge thinking?” one shocked prosecutor recently asked me. “Gurel’s victim underwent some terrifying stuff—threatening to use a heated screwdriver on her genitals!”
There’s no mystery about Johnson’s thoughts. During the sentencing hearing, the judge explained that he did not believe the woman, whom we’ll call Jane Doe, had been raped. According to transcripts, he stated that Doe’s vagina had not been “shredded” during the sexual assault, an indication in his mind that she’d given some sort of consent.
“If someone doesn’t want to have sexual intercourse, the body shuts down,” the judge opined. “The body will not permit that to happen unless a lot of damage is inflicted, and we heard nothing about that in this case. That tells me that the victim in this case, although she wasn’t necessarily willing, she didn’t put up a fight.”
That statement is so outrageous it’s reminiscent of the cockamamie theories offered by defense lawyers during the sensational trial for the 2002 Haidl gang rape. Those lawyers hired doctors, flew them in from far-away places, paid them more than $750 per hour, and had them claim in court that the only way an erect penis could enter a woman’s vagina and rectum was if she consciously agreed to penetration. In essence, they argued (and a wise jury rejected) that successful penetration without massive tears means no rape.
Fast-forward six years, and we find a sitting judge regurgitating Haidl-rape-defense excuses. But the Gurel case isn’t the first time Johnson’s conduct has been questionable in recent domestic-violence cases. Consider:
•In an ongoing case against Jeffrey Patrick Haley—a man accused of repeatedly punching, kicking, strangling and pointing a loaded handgun at a girlfriend, Johnson has ridiculed the victim in open court, calling her “a dullard.”
•Convicted killer/robber/woman-beater Terrance Russell knew he faced California’s Three Strikes Law if he committed another crime but tried to strangle a woman with both hands in September 2007. Prosecutors wanted Russell, who pleaded guilty, to receive a 35-years-to-life sentence. But to “make sure that justice is done,” Johnson ignored the wishes of the frightened victim, reduced the two felony charges to misdemeanors and gave Russell just eight months in the local jail.
But for Gurel, if it’s good to have a semi-sympathetic judge, it’s even better to be handed a serious prosecutorial screw-up.
You might think that Deputy District Attorney Suzy M. Snyder, who has been a passionate courtroom advocate for rape victims, would have earned a pat on the back for putting Gurel in prison. However, Snyder’s boss, District Attorney Tony Rackauckas, was incensed by her conduct. In fact, multiple law-enforcement sources tell me that she was escorted out of the OC DA’s offices and placed on administrative leave, a move that could end in her joining the ranks of the unemployed.
According to a DA’s-office document obtained by the Weekly, Rackauckas believes that Snyder had been having an affair with the man who was the lead detective handling Gurel’s case. Normally, nobody would care about sexual liaisons, but what upset Rackauckas was that he believed Snyder violated his office’s conduct guidelines by secretly engaging “in a sexual relationship with a testifying police witness,” according to a Sept. 25 letter the DA sent to Gurel’s defense lawyers, James Crawford and Leonard Klaif.
A self-described “regretful” Rackauckas stated in the letter that he doesn’t think the ethical breach undermines evidence pointing to Gurel’s guilt or his conviction. But the defense lawyers, who’ve already filed their intention to appeal the case, must be salivating about the prospects of presenting a prosecutorial-misconduct argument to the court of appeal.
So where does this leave Jane Doe?
“She’s understandably devastated and disheartened and continues to be terrified of the defendant,” according to Rackauckas.
Who can blame her? She’s now been screwed by the defendant, the judge, a prosecutor and the police.
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