Justice Takes a Pool Cue
Photo by Michael Goulding/The Orange County Register
Moments after Judge Francisco Briseno declared a June 28 mistrial in Orange Countys infamous gang-rape case, millionaire Assistant Sheriff Don Haidl wrapped his arms around his son, defendant Gregory Scott Haidl, and squeezed. During the embrace, the 19-year-old whispered in his fathers ear. The elder Haidl spun around, fixed an angry stare and jabbed his finger at an Orange County Register photographer. Silencing the packed courtroom, he yelled, Dont ever point that thing at me!
It was impossible to miss the irony unless you were Los Angeles Times reporters Claire Luna and Stuart Pfeifer, who were busy trading smiles and congratulatory handshakes with defense lawyers. On July 6, 2002, Greg Haidl and two buddies supplied alcohol and drugs to a 16-year-old and, after she likely fell into a stupor, videotaped her as the object of their deviant sexual fantasies. By the time it was over, the drunken, laughing defendants had filmed themselves shoving a Snapple bottle, lit cigarette, Tree Top Apple Juice can and pool cue into the near-motionless girls vagina and anus. Later, a proud Haidl showed his 21-minute video to acquaintances, some of whom thought the girl was a corpse and alerted police.
Fast-forward to June 28 inside Brisenos courtroom after the jury deadlocked on all 24 felony counts. Although neither was lying naked on a pool table with foreign objects protruding from his ass, Haidl and his son were incensed that someone tried to take their picture. Still seething at the Register photographer whod aimed his camera at the 19-year-old defendants, a red-faced Haidl shouted, Dont do it! Do you understand me?
A more appropriate emotion for the chain-smoking assistant sheriff might have been joyous relief. After all, it was his million-dollar-plus campaign that convinced some members of the jury that the villain was Jane Doe, the alleged victim. Defense attorneys who secretly hired a focus group to test trial strategies called Doe a slut and a whore who loved giving blowjobs and enjoyed doggy style sex. On flimsy or nonexistent evidence, they even insinuated that Doe pressured her partners for anal intercourse, dreamed of becoming a porn star, craved four-way encounters and liked to swallow. Lead defense lawyer Joe Cavallo told the jury Doe should have been charged with raping Haidl, Keith Spann and Kyle Nachreiner, a laughable claim given how the defendants manhandled the girl throughout the gangbang.
In California its illegal to have sex with someone so intoxicated or drugged she cannot resist. Setting aside the D.A.s contention that the defendants laced Does drink with GHB or some other fast-acting narcotic, there was no dispute that the high school sophomore drank beer, smoked marijuana and gulped an 8-ounce glass of Bombay Gin. Haidl captured her fall on video. Within minutes, Does speech was slurred and her body displayed the rigidity of a rag doll. She said, Greg, I feel ill and, 30 seconds later, Im so fucked up. Those were her last words. Eight minutes and 15 seconds later, the defendants had Doe stripped and, as the normally reserved Superior Court Judge Everett Dickey observed during preliminary hearings, used her like a piece of meat on a wicker sofa and pool table in Haidls garage. As Spann began fucking the incoherent girl for a second time, it was Haidl described as a kind, shy little boy by his father who shouted, Put it down for the militia bitch!
The defense and their well-paid medical experts offered several theories: The defendants had no reasonable way of knowing Doe was incapacitated, and her ingestion of stimulants was meaningless because Doe faked unconsciousness for a prearranged, necrophilia-themed porno directed by the assistant sheriffs son. According to Cavallo, the mastermind behind the video was Doe, not Haidl the film student who owned a top-of-the-line Sony hand-held camera and recorded everything from sex with his girlfriends to skateboarding practices.
As a sign of the defense teams contempt for this jurys intellectual abilities, they even offered a third, contradictory version of events. After Dr. Peter Fotinakes, the prosecutions neurologist, told jurors to use their common sense about Does obviously diminished consciousness, defense lawyer John Barnett argued that Does coma might have been self-induced because of teenage posttraumatic stress disorder. Said Barnett, [Doe] has low esteem. Shes morally conflicted. Its gonna cause acute situational stress. With all the sincerity he could muster, Barnett then explained to jurors that the defendants couldnt be guilty of rape by intoxication if Doe had voluntarily willed herself into a coma.
Never mind that a self-induced comatose person cant give consent either. Never mind that Nachreiner disappeared for at least 15 minutes when he was making Does iceless gin drink even though the gin bottle and cup were in the garage with them; or that police later found a powerful prescription sedative on a bathroom countertop in the Haidl house. Never mind that the defendants repeatedly signaled to one another on the video that Doe was knocked out. Never mind that Doe, face-down on the pool table, didnt flinch when she urinated on herself as Haidl slapped her genitals and Nachreiner vigorously plunged a pool cue into her vagina. Never mind that Doe vomited that night. Never mind that she reeked of alcohol and looked like hell the next morning. Never mind that those who saw Doe in the aftermath testified that her last memory was drinking Nachreiners foul-tasting concoction.
The jury dominated by low-income men was as oblivious to those clues as they were to the shameless defense tactics. A lone female juror refused to be suckered. She voted guilty on all counts. For others, the defendants were guilty of just some of the charges. Because it takes a unanimous vote to obtain a conviction, the trial was over the moment Doe admitted shed had consensual, one-on-one sex with two of the three defendants on prior occasions. If a jury doesnt like an alleged victim, its going to look for ways to nullify the law. Speaking of District Attorney Tony Rackauckas June 29 decision to retry the case after August 6, one juror told the Times, I think that the hardest thing for the prosecution is going to be Jane Doe.
Before deliberations, Judge Briseno explained to the jury that if the defendants should have reasonably known Doe was incapacitated, they were compelled to vote guilty, but 22-year-old juror Michael (he declined to give his last name), of Garden Grove, ignored that instruction. The girls sexual history weighed heavily in his decision to support the defendants, he said. [The videotape] was compelling, but not, in my opinion, sufficiently convincing.
It was easy to see why Michael had been one of the defense teams top choices for the panel at the outset of the trial. I could understand why some people would [watch the video] and view it as a crime, he said. But I can also see how [the footage] can be misunderstood, too.
Its amazing what a nine-member legal-defense team can accomplish. Of course, that tally does not include O.J. Simpson jury consultant Jo-Ellan Dimitrius, an army of private investigators led by a retired FBI agent and several exsheriffs deputies, an audio-visual expert (who made dozens of colorful, anti-Doe charts for jurors to ponder), several lurking fellows with unknown assignments, a full-time publicist, and editorial support from the two local daily newspapers.
The Registers Steven Greenhut, who never bothered to visit the courtroom, opined on May 9 that its less of a crime if a girl is sexually assaulted by someone she knows. He chastised prosecutors for not granting the defendants leniency. Theres real questions here about justice, said Greenhut.
Dana Parsons of the Times showed up for less than 10 percent of the trial and, as best I can determine, never bothered to read the case file or interview anyone on the prosecutions side. In discussions with his colleagues, he ridiculed the Weeklys exclusive description of the content of Haidls tape, but hes never seen the video. He must have been content to rely upon his regular, private briefings with Haidl publicist Tori Richards and Barnett.
In a trial eve, May 2, column that shamelessly regurgitated defense-supplied lies about Doe she liked to use a pool cue on herself and agreed to have sex on videotape Parsons called on the jury to ignore the states rape-by-intoxication law. Why? Given what they knew about the girl, wrote Parsons, did it even occur to the boys that they were committing a crime? I doubt they did. When he drew that conclusion, not one piece of evidence had yet been presented in court.
Journalism at its best exposes injustice. For Parsons, the most condemnable person in the Haidl case wasnt the twisted defendants, or their obnoxious families who routinely mad-dogged court observers, or even Cavallo, who set a new low in defense-lawyer conduct. Instead, the veteran columnist wrote five articles blasting D.A. Rackauckas for treating the case so seriously. Its no wonder the Haidls are confident they can escape accountability.
It should be no surprise that Parsons has also led the cries for Rackauckas to cut a deal with the defendants. As with the rest of his coverage, he isnt bothered that the Haidls, of fashionable Corona del Mar, believe they deserve special treatment because of their money and power. Parsons pretends its only the D.A. who has been stubborn and misguided. He conveniently didnt report that the defendants have refused guilty pleas unless they receive probation or, at worst, nine-month maximum sentences.
The arrogance doesnt end there. Through his numerous legal representatives, Haidl has demanded that Rackauckas give his son an additional concession: no prison time. If theres a deal before a second trial, he wants Gregory in a more comfortable, private security facility where karma and a pool cue arent as likely to find his rear end.
Get the Weekly Newsletter
Our weekly feature stories, movie reviews, calendar picks and more - minus the newsprint and sent directly to your inbox.