Men involved in 2009 murder of Laguna Beach hotel employee convicted

Two men accused of the 12-year-ago murder of a Laguna Beach hotel worker were sentenced Monday at the Harbor Justice Center in Newport Beach after both pleading guilty to intentional homicide and first-degree burglary.

Their victim, Damon Nicholson, was found clubbed to death in his Dolphin Way apartment on October 24, 2009.

Matthew Thomas Dragna, now 31, was sentenced to 16 years and four months in state prison by Orange County Superior Court Judge Gregg Prickett after Dragna pleaded guilty earlier this month There are charges of intentional homicide and three charges of assault with a lethal weapon other than a firearm and first degree burglary in the case. He also admitted to receiving an improved sentence for having personally used a deadly weapon. Prosecutors said Dragna killed the victim by clubbing her with a baseball bat.

Jacob Quintanilla also pleaded guilty Monday to charges of intentional homicide and first degree burglary in the case. Prickett sentenced Quintanilla to seven years and four months in state prison. Quintanilla, now 33, received credit for 3,912 days already served and was not taken into custody following conviction.

Monday’s convictions came after years of legal drama.

Dragna was originally convicted by an Orange County jury in 2013 and was sentenced in 2014 to life in prison without the possibility of parole. But a state appeals court overturned the decision in 2016, saying Laguna Beach police erred in continuing to question Dragna after he said he wanted to speak to a lawyer.

Prosecutors said Dragna and his co-defendant Quintanilla left Nicholson’s body sprawled out on a sofa in his living room and stole a laptop, cell phone and other items on October 23, 2009.

Nicholson’s body was found the next day by a co-worker, who checked his welfare when he failed to show up for work.

The victim was found with a fractured skull and a red oval bruise above his hip, prosecutors said.

Dragna, then 19, was introduced to Nicholson by a third party on October 22, 2009 and admitted he went to Nicholson’s apartment the day before the murder to have sex with Nicholson, 40 .

Dragna returned a day later with Quintanilla, a friend who Dragna said “would be interested in [sexual] deeds ”, according to court records.

Prickett said he had probably seen Quintanilla “more than any other accused [in court]” in his career.

Previous murder charges with increased sentence under special circumstances for robbery were dismissed for both.

No members of Nicholson’s family were present at the hearing on Monday, but prosecutors read the impact statements of the Nicholson sisters from 2014. DeVonne Nicholson Blauser wrote that she hated Dragna for killing her brother, describing Dragna as a “monster and murderer”.

“I hate the fact that someday you’ll come out and get to do it again for another person,” Nicholson Blauser said. “I can only hope you die alone and in pain as you left Damon.”

Deanne Cosgrove said there was “no justice” in this kind of criminal trial, adding that she felt that Dragna had robbed the community of Laguna Beach and her of not only her brother but also her children. of their uncle. She added that Nicholson was a wedding photographer and at least one couple had not had their photos because of their brother’s murder.

“I’m still haunted,” Cosgrove said in her statement.

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