Men take plea deal in 2009 Nicholson murder, 1 sentenced to 30 Years

Damon Nicholson of Laguna Beach

Two men pleaded guilty earlier this month to voluntary manslaughter in the 2009 fatal bludgeoning of Damon Nicholson in his Laguna Beach apartment.

Matthew Thomas Dragna, 31, of Lake Forest, pleaded guilty Oct. 1 to voluntary manslaughter, burglary and three counts of assault with a deadly weapon, all felonies, and agreed to a sentencing enhancement for the personal use of a deadly weapon. As part of the plea deal, a count of murder with a special circumstance allegation of robbery was dismissed,

Orange County Superior Court Judge Gregg Prickett on Monday sentenced Dragna to 30 years in prison, said Kimberly Edds, a spokesperson for the Orange County District Attorney’s Office. Dragna waived all of his custody credits as part of the plea deal, meaning the 12 years he’s already spent in custody don’t count toward the sentence.

Jacob Anthony Quintanilla, 33, of Lake Forest pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and burglary, while a murder charge and special circumstance allegation of robbery were dismissed. Prickett sentenced Quintanilla to seven years and four months in prison, who has already served almost 11 years behind bars and will not have to serve any more time.

Defendant Matthew Dragna
Defendant Jacob Quintanilla

Dragna met 40-year-old Nicholson for the first time at his Dolphin Way apartment on Oct. 22, 2009, at the invitation of a third person, investigators learned. The three engaged in a sexual encounter that night, a witness testified. After meeting Nicholson, Dragna planned to rob him the following night by going to his home under the pretense of another sexual encounter, now-retired prosecutor Matt Murphy said during the trial.

The following night, Dragna and Quintanilla, entered the apartment through an open glass door and bashed Nicholson five times, the prosecutor said. They fled the scene after stealing a laptop computer, expensive software, and a distinctive cell phone, according to court testimony.

Nicholson’s body was discovered Oct. 24, 2009, when a concerned co-worker went to check on him after the Hotel Laguna catering manager failed to show up for work or return phone calls.

In 2013, a jury found Dragna guilty of murdering Nicholson in his Laguna Beach apartment. Three years later an appellate court ordered a retrial for Dragna, finding Laguna Beach police erred in continuing to question him after he invoked his right to a lawyer.

Andrea Adelson and City News Service contributed reporting to this story.

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