Closing arguments in 2009 Laguna murder case

Prosecutor says defendant has repeatedly lied and was a knowing participant in the crime.

December 19, 2013|By Bryce Alderton
  • Matthew Thomas Dragna, who is accused of murdering Laguna Beach resident Damon Nicholson in October 2009.
Matthew Thomas Dragna, who is accused of murdering Laguna… (Orange County District…)

A prosecutor gave closing arguments Wednesday claiming that a 23-year-old Lake Forest man accused of murdering a Laguna Beach man in his apartment in 2009 repeatedly lied to police investigators and was a knowing participant in the crime.

Orange County Deputy Dist. Atty. Matt Murphy portrayed Matthew Thomas Dragna as someone who couldn't keep his story straight regarding the October 2009 death of 40-year-old Damon Nicholson, a former Hotel Laguna catering manager.

"Besides his name, Matthew Dragna lied to [Laguna Beach] police about every single thing he was asked about," Murphy said during closing arguments inside the Central Justice Center in Santa Ana.

Murphy based his argument on statements Dragna made to police during questioning after his arrest in November 2009.

Nicholson was found slumped over a couch in his living room on Dolphin Way with a red oval wound above his left hip and a fractured skull, according to the prosecution.


The district attorney charged both Dragna and 25-year-old Jacob Quintanilla, with one felony count each of special circumstances murder during the commission of a robbery.

The prosecution alleges Dragna and Quintanilla drove together to Nicholson's apartment, bludgeoned him to death, then stole items from Nicholson's apartment, including a laptop and cell phone.

The men are being tried separately.

Even if Dragna didn't strike Nicholson with a bat, he shares responsibility for the murder for driving with Quintanilla to Nicholson's home, according to Murphy.

" 'I've never been there [to Nicholson's home],'" Murphy said, relaying what Dragna told investigators.

"That's a lie, we have your DNA," Murphy said. Dragna and another man allegedly went to Nicholson's for sex the night before the murder.

Earlier in the trial, forensic scientist Felicia Burke testified that DNA found on a trash can lid from Nicholson's apartment from someone other than Dragna would be more rare than one-in-a-trillion individuals.

"Quintanilla had no contact with Nicholson before the murder, no witnesses, no emails, no cell phone data, no phone calls," Murphy said. "The connection in reality is sitting right there" [referring to Dragna sitting next to his attorney Frank Bittar.]

Dragna's testimony regarding the alleged murder weapon — a baseball bat — was also inconsistent, according to Murphy.

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