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Home / dumped case

OC informant scandal leads to another case getting dumped

Charges against a convicted murderer regarding solicitation to attack an Orange County sheriff’s sergeant were dismissed Tuesday when the defendant’s attorneys argued prosecutorial misconduct.

Paul Gentile Smith, 62, won a new trial last August in the Oct. 24, 1988, killing of 29-year-old Robert Haugen in Sunset Beach. Before Smith was due to be sentenced in 2010 for that killing, he pleaded guilty to conspiring with his then-girlfriend to solicit an attack on Orange County sheriff’s Sgt. Raymond Wert for his work as lead investigator in the murder case.

But Smith eventually moved to withdraw the guilty pleas, and Orange County Superior Court Judge Michael Cassidy on Tuesday granted that, as well as a motion by prosecutors to dump the solicitation charges against the defendant, according to court records.

When asked for comment, Orange County District Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Kimberly Edds sent a statement the office sent out in February, after the prosecutor on the case, Ebrahim Baytieh, was fired. Baytieh has since been elected Orange County Superior Court judge.

In the statement, Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer said he made a “difficult decision to concede a new trial” to Smith, but did so “as a result of allegations that a prosecutor failed under the prior administration to turn over information about an informant to the defense.”

Smith’s attorney, Scott Sanders of the Orange County Public Defender’s Office — who also uncovered the informant scandal in the case against Scott Dekraai, the worst mass killer in Orange County history — has argued that Wert and investigator Donald Voght hid interviews with another informant that would reveal Sixth Amendment violations against his client.

The informant, Jeffrey Platt, told Wert and Voght to have him assigned to a group in the jail with other inmates so they could illegally pump Smith for information, according to Sanders.

Wert’s attorney, Lolita Kirk, objected to the dismissal of charges. Kirk did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Sanders said, “Wert refused to testify about his conspiracy with Baytieh and others to hide evidence, which is the reason the convictions need to be vacated. And yet he has the audacity to complain, from behind his attorney, that this isn’t fair.”

Sanders added that Wert “testified before the grand jury and at the trial. He later appeared in a television show about the case with Baytieh so they talk about what a great job they did. Then when we finally discovered that the worst misconduct from the entire informant scandal occurred in this case, silence becomes very appealing to Wert and he takes the Fifth (Amendment). Wert really is a living portrait of the worst law enforcement has to offer.”

Smith was convicted of first-degree murder with jurors also finding true a special circumstance allegation of torture.

Smith and Haugen had been friends for eight or nine years, and Smith was a regular customer of Haugen, who was a marijuana dealer, Baytieh said during the defendant’s trial.

Haugen was stabbed 18 times, with the victim’s nude body found on his bed with a pillow over his head and a large stereo speaker between his legs that was set afire.

Smith was linked to the killing after he was convicted in a domestic violence case in Las Vegas in 2007 and police obtained a DNA sample from the defendant.

Smith stabbed, tortured and attempted to set fire to Tina Smith, who is no relation to the defendant, in Las Vegas in 2007.

Investigators found blood spots in Haugen’s apartment that they eventually matched to Smith.

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