Jane Doe was sitting in a Southern California community-college classroom when her criminal-justice professor ignited a debate about the infamous 2002 Haidl gang rape that won international attention. Three young men (then ages 17 and 18) got a then-16-year-old girl intoxicated on booze and marijuana to the point of unconsciousness, stripped her, and then videotaped their sexual assault at a Pacific Ocean-view, Corona del Mar home. With misogynistic rap as a soundtrack, they threw her limp body on a pool table and, in a despicable coup de grâce, repeatedly shoved a Snapple bottle, apple-juice can, lit cigarette and a pool stick into her vagina and anus.
We'd never know about the sensational crime except that Greg Haidl, the filmmaker/participant and the son of an ultra-wealthy assistant sheriff, clumsily lost his homemade porno after proudly showing it to friends. Eventually, the 21-minute film made its way to police, who initially believed they'd discovered a bizarre case of necrophilia. The arrests of Haidl, Kyle Nachreiner and Keith Spann began an intense, eight-year court battle that ended with convictions and six-year prison sentences—and created a political earthquake from which Orange County is still recovering.
Though long over, the case remains polarizing, especially in classrooms such as the one with Doe in attendance. Those who side with the defendants are often the angriest. They opine that the victim enticed the men by wearing provocative clothes and flirting. Some people go so far as to claim the girl's mere presence with partying men was a “green light” for a gangbang. Those are infuriating stances to Doe, who kept her mouth shut during the debate. Neither the professor nor the other students knew that if she spoke, she would do so with compelling authority.
“I was unconscious, and there's a video to prove it,” she tells me, unable to mask her incredulity.
She is the Jane Doe in the Haidl case. The horrific crime plus the savage, multimillion-dollar defense smear and intimidation campaign coupled with public scorn and her own missteps came close to ruining her permanently. It has taken a while to recover from all the abuse, but there's good news.
Two months shy of the 10th anniversary of the crime, Doe is ready to break her silence in a public forum. On April 27, she will give a seven-minute speech at Orange County's annual Victims' Rights March and Rally in Santa Ana. She has decided to reveal her first name at the event.
“In 2002, my world collapsed, and I lost everything I knew,” she says. “But now I've turned a horrible situation into a positive. I've taken my life back.”
* * *
Everybody expected that Assistant Sheriff Don Haidl—a chain smoker with a cocktail near-permanently attached to his hand and a scowl on his emaciated face—would do everything he could to keep his son out of prison following the arrests. But few people could've anticipated the extent to which Haidl's legal defense team—totaling more than a dozen defense lawyers, including a former state Supreme Court justice, a retired FBI agent and, get this, a publicist—would go. Private investigators aggressively tailed and photographed Doe and her parents for years. A poster was circulated in Doe's neighborhood soliciting dirt on her. Her medical records were illegally released to reporters. She was repeatedly called a “slut,” and her female friends were privately convinced to alter their stories to match the defense's case. Haidl brought in a veteran Los Angeles porno star to testify that Doe was faking unconsciousness in the video while playing the role of a corpse. Not satisfied, he also paid a New York doctor to claim with all seriousness that Doe didn't need to give oral consent to the gangbang because her rectum had done so when it accepted the insertion of foreign objects. The defense team even got CBS show 48 Hours to broadcast a fact-ignoring feature sympathetic to their clients.
Observers also expected that Haidl's two best buddies, Sheriff Mike Carona and Assistant Sheriff George Jaramillo might try to aid the accused rapists. Haidl had risen from San Bernardino County used-car salesman who'd made a fortune auctioning government vehicles to assistant sheriff with full police powers—without a minute of formal training. It probably helped that Haidl paid monthly cash bribes to Carona and Jaramillo, loaned them his private jet, bought them custom-made suits, as well as secretly funded their takeover of the Orange County Sheriff's Department (OCSD) in 1999 with hundreds of thousands of dollars in illegal, undisclosed campaign contributions. In return, Carona and Jaramillo used back channels to sabotage Doe's case by threatening that Haidl would fund an election challenger to District Attorney Tony Rackauckas if the case weren't dropped or transferred to juvenile court.
But nobody could have anticipated that a 16-year-old, carefree, party-hungry Rancho Cucamonga girl would alter the course of Orange County history. Her arrival at the high-school-aged beer-and-pot party at Haidl's home near midnight on July 5, 2002, set in motion a series of events that would make national news, reveal wealth's corrupting influence on justice, alter California law about defense lawyers paying jurors, prompt rebellion inside the OCSD, expose the laziness of the mainstream media that blamed Doe, launch a federal grand jury, end promising careers and put several powerful individuals once blessed by the president of the United States in prison.
"I did that?” Doe asks me, smiling.
(Well, you had some pivotal help from Haidl, Nachreiner and Spann.)
It's true the elder Haidl, Jaramillo and Carona were not present during the gang rape, but their ham-fisted efforts to wreck the prosecution not only backfired, but also undermined their once-impenetrable alliance. The tensions of the case exposed deep personality conflicts, and those rifts ultimately provided details about non-Doe scandals and crimes, information that fueled my newspaper columns and the investigatory files for suspicious IRS and FBI agents.
The impact of the Carona-Jaramillo-Haidl breakup can't be underestimated. In 2002, for example, CNN's Larry King named Carona "America's Sheriff” following the kidnapping, rape and murder of a 5-year-old Stanton girl. There was political-insider talk of converting the self-styled "Christian conservative” sheriff's overwhelmingly positive public image into a Republican campaign to unseat U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer or serve as Arnold Schwarzenegger's lieutenant governor. President George W. Bush placed him in a top homeland-security advisory post.
Before the sexual assault, Jaramillo—a onetime Garden Grove cop—made no secret of wanting to be elected sheriff on his way to becoming California's first Latino governor. Haidl, the least personable and, obviously, wealthiest of the trio, was content to bankroll his buddies' rise in power. He just wanted their influence for personal favors—say, if a criminal matter arose or an investment tip was needed.
But, thanks to the gangbang rape of Doe, all their dreams crashed. Carona is now a 66-month resident of a federal prison in Colorado following a corruption conviction. Jaramillo is out of custody, but only after serving both state and federal prison stints that would have been longer if he hadn't ratted out Carona. Haidl, who was caught writing off his son's legal defense as a fraudulent tax deduction, made out the best; after agreeing to surreptitiously wear a government body wire to record Carona discussing coverup efforts, he avoided prison and today enjoys mansion life in Las Vegas and Newport Coast.
* * *
Your typical rape victim endures enormous pain, but what Doe experienced was unforgivable. In addition to the intimidation campaign and the embarrassing national exposure, she had to sit for hours in the witness chair while Haidl's defense lawyers called her names and played (and replayed) on courtroom monitors a video of her vaginal and anal exam after the crime. Private investigators parked in front of her house and tailed her parents to work. According to law-enforcement sources, Haidl's emissaries offered secret deals to buy her silence.
"There was intimidation,” she says. "I think they were hoping I wouldn't testify or that maybe I would settle out of court before it went to trial. No. That's not what I was going to do. I felt like they deserved to pay for what they did, and I felt that prison was the only true way to pay.”
Doe even felt afraid for her life. One night between the first hung-jury trial in 2004 and the second successful one in 2006, a female neighbor who looks like Doe was ambushed and severely beaten in the face and head with a rock. The assault abruptly ended, and the mysterious man fled after the victim yelled, "I'm not [Doe's first name]!”
“My neighbor is sure that I was the intended victim that night,” Doe tells me while seated on a sofa inside the residence of DA chief of staff Susan Kang Schroeder, which, ironically, is just 900 feet from the 2002 crime scene at 1 Jade Cove, Haidl's former home. “She thinks that if I had been the one attacked, the guy wouldn't have stopped until I was dead.”
Though she escaped the madman, Doe admits she contributed to her post-rape collapse.
“I never knew what meth was before the assault,” she says. “After the assault, I wanted to escape. I didn't know who I was anymore. My innocence was gone. It was completely taken away from me. In one night, I had lost everything I knew. I was shunned and scorned. People treated me like I was the perpetrator. I wanted to numb myself. I didn't want to feel the pain anymore. Unfortunately, I found meth.”
For three years, while the case languished in court proceedings, Doe let the meth take control. “I got really bad,” she says. “It was killing me. It took me to places that I would have never gone.”
The lowest point was June 28, 2004, the day her parents informed her the first jury had deadlocked in Superior Court Judge Francisco Briseño's Santa Ana courtroom. (See my column titled "Justice Takes a Pool Cue,” July 8, 2004.)
"At that point, I felt like it was over, and [the defendants]d they were going to get away with it even though there was a videotape of what they did,” she says. “I thought there was no hope. I just couldn't grasp the idea that they could have gotten a hung jury. But that's okay because we had a second trial, and they lost. I got justice, which is all that matters.”
* * *
The law in California is unequivocal: A person can't have sexual relations with another person who is incapable of giving consent. That means, for example, that a man is guilty of sexual assault if he takes a woman home from a bar where they'd been drinking heavily, they smooch, he watches her pass out, and then initiates sex acts.
Unfortunately, the Haidl case didn't educate everyone. Several sexual predators have been caught doping women's cocktails with knockout narcotics, then filming themselves raping and sodomizing their victims. This was precisely the case of 30-year-old Huntington Beach resident James Ernest Bledsoe, who won a 129-year prison sentence earlier this year for assaulting a series of young women he met at area bars.
A couple of the crimes have eerie similarities to the Haidl case. Shortly after the remorseless Haidl, Nachreiner and Spann left prison, three other Southern California men—Michael Clemmons, 19; Luster Lewis, 20; and John Foster, 22—took a heavily intoxicated 18-year-old woman to a Tustin hotel room in 2009 and videotaped their sexual assault. Afterward, these thugs didn't shove foreign objects into their Jane Doe; instead, they urinated on her.
“You would think these people would take a clue,” says Schroeder. “We're not going to tolerate that conduct. You can't have sex with someone who can't say, 'No.' Is that so hard to understand?”
* * *
Doe is tall, slender and friendly. Her laugh comes easily, and her mental alertness shows no signs of the old drug addiction. Nowadays, she lives alone with Daisy, the dog she rescued three years ago from an animal shelter preparing to euthanize her.
When she has free time, she exercises; reads biographies, self-help or religious books; and cherishes time with her family. She earns a fulltime paycheck as an assistant at a doctor's office and attends school at night. Next year, she hopes to transfer to a four-year college such as Cal State Fullerton and eventually make counseling a career. She's not presently dating and admits she still hasn't overcome “trust issues” with men. Someday, she hopes to write a book about her experiences.
“There's always ups and downs,” she says. “There's not a single day that goes by that I don't think about it.”
For example, she experiences flashbacks about the assault when she sees a pool table or a video camera. But the pain started to subside in August 2005, when she entered drug rehab and soon began regular, weekly church attendance. She says she has been sober ever since. “I don't dwell on the things that used to make me cry—like seeing a pool table,” Doe says. “I finally came to the point where I realized I was destroying myself and [my attackers] w[my attackers]ery day I made bad choices that didn't let me grow.”
Besides God and her parents, she credits her emergence to Schroeder and Shirley Mangio, a veteran courthouse victim advocate at Community Service Program Inc. “Shirley has really motivated me,” says Doe. “The way she was there for me as a mentor, second mother and a best friend made me want to do that for other women.”
In March, Doe became a certified victim's advocate and crisis-intervention counselor. She volunteers at least 18 hours per month at Project Sister Family Services in Los Angeles County. Counseling other victims is therapeutic.
“After a sexual assault, women think it's their fault,” she explains. “They think they did something wrong. But I tell my victims they had nothing to do with it. Yes, they may have made a poor decision to go somewhere, but the assault was not their fault. There could be a naked prostitute standing on the corner, and that does not give men the right to rape her.”
She already knows the central message of her speech at the upcoming victims' march.
“I want to send hope and to inspire other sexual assault victims,” she says. “I want women to know that they can go to the depths of hell and still make it out.”