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Life term handed down in bludgeoning death of Laguna man

March 03, 2014|By Bryce Alderton
  • Matthew Thomas Dragna.
Matthew Thomas Dragna. (Orange County District…)

A Lake Forest man was sentenced last week to life in state prison without the possibility of parole for the 2009 bludgeoning murder of Laguna Beach resident Damon Nicholson in his home, the district attorney's office said Friday.

In December, an Orange County Superior Court jury found Matthew Thomas Dragna, 23, guilty of one felony count of special circumstances murder during the commission of a robbery.

Co-defendant Jacob Anthony Quintanilla, 25, Lake Forest faces the same charges and maximum sentence as Dragna and awaits a pretrial hearing March 21, the district attorney's office said.

On Oct. 22, 2009, Dragna was introduced to Nicholson by a third party, prosecutors said.

Dragna and Nicholson had sex that night, and Dragna planned to rob Nicholson the following night by going to his home under the pretense of another sexual encounter, according to the district attorney's office.

On Oct. 23, 2009, Dragna and Quintanilla went to Nicholson's home, and Dragna killed the victim by bludgeoning him with a baseball bat, the office said.

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Dragna and Quintanilla left Nicholson's body on his couch and fled the scene after stealing personal items from him, including a laptop computer and cell phone, prosecutors said.

A co-worker discovered the body Oct. 24, 2009, after Nicholson, 40, failed to arrive for work or return any phone calls.

The Laguna Beach Police Department arrested Dragna on Nov. 18, 2009. At the time of his arrest, Dragna was in possession of items from Nicholson's home.

Police arrested Quintanilla on Dec. 4, 2009, as a result of additional investigation and forensic evidence collected from Nicholson's stolen property, prosecutors said.

Dragna's attorney, Frank Bittar, filed a notice of appeal Monday.

"The bummer is [Dragna] was 19 years old when this happened and his life is essentially thrown away, not to give short shrift to [Nicholson]," Bittar said in a phone interview. "With a 25-years-to-life case, he would have the possibility of breathing fresh air when he is an old man."

An appellate lawyer will review the entire court record and determine whether there were any errors or insufficient evidence, Bittar said.

At Friday's sentencing, the victim's best friend delivered an emotional statement before the court describing the loss of a close friend she had known for 20 years, missing the artistic and creative talent he possessed, and never being able to hug him again, the district attorney's office said.

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