Dustin Sean Ross McDonald Guilty of Murder in Drug Deal Gone Ballistic

A jury on Tuesday found a Garden Grove man guilty of murdering a 23-year-old man and trying to kill two women during what was supposed to be a drug transaction in Santa Ana.

Dustin Sean Ross McDonald could be sentenced on Aug. 26 to 114 years to life in state prison after jurors convicted the 24-year-old of one felony count of first degree murder, two felony counts of attempted murder with premeditation and deliberation, and sentencing enhancements for the personal discharge of a firearm causing death or great bodily injury. 

Based on R. Scott Moxley’s in-court observations in downtown Santa Ana, the jury struggled to get that verdict, deliberating several days and asking numerous questions.

All the players in this tragic tale had agreed to meet on Aug. 12, 2014, for a drug deal, according to Senior Deputy District Attorney Keith Burke. 

Around 11:30 p.m. that night, McDonald drove up to a sedan that a 21-year-old woman had parked in the area of 12th Street and Main Street, with Aaron Jonathan Chavez in the front passenger seat and a 28-year-old female riding in the back.

McDonald then stepped out of his SUV, walked around to the front passenger side of the sedan, pulled out a firearm and fired around 10 shots. The trio inside the sedan were hit multiple times by rounds from McDonald’s gun. Chavez died at the scene. The woman were taken to a local hospital but ultimately survived their injuries.

After surveillance video from the area of the shooting was studied, McDonald was stopped by Santa Ana cops the next evening as he drove near his residence and was arrested.

The verdict was tough for the jury to reach because Chavez was a drug dealer who sold McDonald fake heroin. McDonald claims that when he confronted Chavez about it, Chavez reached for something in the sedan. McDonald, thinking it was a gun, fired first. Knives were later found in the sedan.

That spurred the jury to deadlock Monday before reaching a consensus the following day. That included rejecting one of Burke’s special circumstances requests.

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