Jailed Suspect Faces Trial in ’09 Murder

Murder victim Damon Nicholson
Murder victim Damon Nicholson

Opening statements are expected Wednesday, Dec. 11, in the trial of a Lake Forest man suspected in the bludgeoning-murder of a Laguna Beach resident in 2009, the district attorney’s office announced Tuesday.

Matthew Thomas Dragna, 23, charged with one felony count of special circumstances murder during the commission of a robbery, faces a maximum sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole if convicted, the prosecutor’s statement says.

Dragna and co-defendant Jacob Anthony Quintanilla were arrested within a few weeks of the Oct. 23 bludgeoning death of Damon Nicholson, a popular catering manager at Hotel Laguna. A co-worker, who was concerned when he failed to show up for work or return any phone calls, discovered his body in his North Laguna duplex.

The pair, who have spent the last four years in jail, are accused of bludgeoning Nicholson with a baseball bat and stealing his laptop and cell phone, the prosecutor said. At the time of his arrest on Nov. 18, Dragna is accused of being in possession of stolen items from the victim’s home,

A public administrator  threads through the informal shrine outside Nicholson's home in 2009.
A public administrator threads through the informal shrine outside Nicholson’s home in 2009.

according to the prosecutor. Quintanilla was arrested by Laguna Beach police on Dec. 4 as a result of additional investigation and forensic evidence collected from Nicholson’s stolen property, prosecutors said.

Suspect Matthew Dragna
Suspect Matthew Dragna

Quintanilla, 25, also of Lake Forest, faces the same charges and maximum sentence as Dragna. He faces a pre-trial hearing Jan. 10 in Department C-35.

Suspect Jacob Quintanilla
Suspect Jacob Quintanilla

Senior Deputy District Attorney Matt Murphy of the homicide unit is prosecuting this case.

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