Newport Beach double murder trial set to begin
Testimony is set to begin Tuesday in the trial of a 47-year-old man accused of execution-style shootings of a man and woman in Newport Beach in a murder case that sparked headlines when Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer made racially charged comments in a meeting to consider whether to pursue the death penalty against the defendant.
Jamon Rayon Buggs, a personal trainer who lived in Huntington Beach, was facing the death penalty, but prosecutors decided to opt to pursue life in prison without the possibility of parole. Spitzer said he changed his mind when defense attorneys raised issues about Buggs’ history of brain injuries from playing football.
Buggs is accused of killing 48-year-old Wendi Sue Miller of Costa Mesa and 38-year-old Darren Donald Partch of Newport Beach. The two were found dead in Partch’s residence at Villa Siena, 2101 E. 15th St.
Police were called just before 9:30 p.m. April 21, 2019, by Partch’s roommate, who found the bodies, according to a trial brief from Senior Deputy District Attorney Dave Porter.
Both murder victims were shot in the head and were nude on the floor on opposite sides of the bed, Porter alleged.
Because Partch didn’t show up for Easter brunch, his mother also showed up at the double murder crime scene and ignored the roommate’s warnings not to go inside the residence, Porter said. She went upstairs, found both bodies and then embraced her dead son, “crying uncontrollably,” Porter said.
Police found two bullet holes in the wall. Miller had also been reported missing that day when she failed to show up for Easter lunch with her mother, Porter said.
Miller and Partch left the Sandpiper Bar in Laguna Beach together about 1 a.m. April 20, 2019, Porter said. Miller, a mother of two, was shot “in cold blood” on the right side of her head at “point-blank range,” Porter said.
Partch, an only child, was also “murdered in cold blood,” Porter said, adding the victim was shot four times and sustained a gunshot wound to the back of his head, Porter said.
“The evidence suggests that Partch and Miller were caught by surprise and did not have time to defend themselves,” Porter said. “There was no evidence of a struggle in the bedroom and Partch and Miller were murdered within seconds of each other.”
Police testified during a preliminary hearing that one of Buggs’ ex-girlfriends told investigators that she met Partch at a gym and the two kept in touch. But an apparently jealous Buggs at some point called Partch and frightened him enough that Partch called the woman and said he wanted to cut off any more contact with her.
According to police, Buggs also confronted a chiropractor who had dated the woman. The ex-girlfriend said Buggs had been “stalking” her before Partch and Miller were killed. Buggs was not previously acquainted with Miller.
On April 20, 2019, just after 4:30 p.m., an Irvine resident reported an attempted burglary at a two-story townhouse at 818 Silk Tree in Irvine, Porter said. Buggs allegedly climbed up the outside of the building to the second-story balcony, Porter said.
A woman who was watching television heard a “loud thump” and looked toward the balcony where she saw the suspect, prompting her to scream and Buggs to flee, Porter said.
Buggs fired a bullet into the residence and then later led police on a high-speed chase that ended in a cul de sac, where officers found him hiding at 3521 Birch St., Porter said.
Buggs told police he fired the gun by accident, Porter said.
Buggs had been using a smart phone to locate his ex-girlfriend and Partch, Porter said. Police found among Buggs’ possessions a .38-caliber revolver and a notepad with Partch’s phone numbers and address, Porter said.
Buggs’ incident at the townhouse in Irvine turned out to be a case of mistaken identity as he was looking for another man who dated his ex-girlfriend, but ended up on the property of someone different with the same name, Porter said.
Buggs “murdered Partch because he was jealous and believed Partch (and the defendant’s ex-girlfriend) were in a romantic relationship,” Porter said.
While making their case to persuade prosecutors not to seek the death penalty, Buggs’ attorneys have said their client suffered brain injuries in a car crash in the mid-1990s and from competing as a football player over the years.
Buggs is charged with two counts of murder with special circumstances of more than one victim and single felony counts each of attempted burglary and possession of a firearm by a felon. He also faces sentencing enhancements for the discharge of a firearm causing death.