Trial Begins Wednesday in Laguna Beach Apartment Murder

Matthew Thomas Dragna and Jacob Anthony Quintanilla are both accused in the 2009 bludgeoning death of Damon Nicholson, who worked at the Hotel Laguna.

(Left) Damon Nicholson, (Right) Matthew Thomas Dragna (Patch file photos)
(Left) Damon Nicholson, (Right) Matthew Thomas Dragna (Patch file photos)
A Lake Forest man will stand trial Wednesday in connection with the 2009 bludgeoning-murder of a Laguna Beach man inside his apartment, the Orange County district attorney's office reported.

Matthew Thomas Dragna, 23, faces one felony count of special circumstances murder during the commission of a robbery. If convicted Dragna faces a maximum sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole. Opening statements are slated to begin Wednesday at the Central Justice Center in Santa Ana.

Co-defendant Jacob Anthony Quintanilla, 25, also of Lake Forest, faces the same charges and maximum sentence as Dragna. Quintanilla is scheduled for a  pre-trial hearing on Jan. 10, 2014.

Prosecutors allege Dragna and Quintanilla went to the Dolphin Way apartment of Damon Nicholson, 40, on Oct. 23, 2009, and bludgeoned him to death with a metal baseball bat in the torso and head. Authorities allege Quintanilla and Dragna entered the Laguna Beach apartment through an unlocked sliding glass door in a supposed search for marijuana. According to prosecutors, Dragna and Quintanilla left Nicholson's body on his couch, stole several items including a laptop computer and cell phone, and fled the scene.

Nicholson was employed as a catering manager by the Hotel Laguna at the time of his murder. His body was discovered the next day when a concerned co-worker went to check on him after he failed to show up for work or return any phone calls.

Dragna was arrested Nov. 18, 2009 by the Laguna Beach Police Department. Prosecutors said at the time of his arrest, Dragna was in possession of stolen items from Nicholson's home. Quintanilla was arrested by LBPD Dec. 4, 2009, as a result of additional investigation and forensic evidence collected from Nicholson’s stolen property.

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