SANTA ANA — A 19-year-old machinist who shot a man to death in Laguna Beach last year after a traffic dispute was sentenced Wednesday to 35 years to life in prison.
Dzevad Joe Dakaj of Rubidoux was convicted in April of first-degree murder in the Nov. 11, 1995, shooting death of 26-year-old Loren Julian Chadwick of Laguna Beach.
The defendant contended during trial that he fired four shots because he believed Chadwick had hurt one of his friends during the dispute.
But Orange County Superior Court Judge Luis A. Cardenas, in handing down a maximum sentence, said the victim posed no threat and was trying to run away when he was shot twice, with one bullet hitting him in the back and piercing his heart.
"There's no excuse for shooting someone in the back," Cardenas said. "It's not honorable to leave somebody to die."
Dakaj was on his way to Laguna Beach with several friends to celebrate his 19th birthday when they became embroiled in a traffic dispute with another car on Laguna Canyon Road. When the cars reached the 300 block of Broadway downtown, a fight broke out, authorities said.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Mike Jacobs told the court that Dakaj gave chase and shot Chadwick like "a dog in the alley" before leaving with his friends to celebrate his birthday.
Defense attorney Donald N. Kelly said Dakaj didn't pursue the victim, and said his client "didn't have a clue" that he had shot the victim when he left with his friends and headed to a nearby restaurant.
A number of family and friends of the victim attending the sentencing cried as his mother and others described their grief.
"Loren was a beautiful person; you didn't even stop to look at him," said Kelly O'Connor, the victim's girlfriend of seven years.
Sondra Chadwick said she was trying to forgive Dakaj for killing her son, and told the judge she hoped that instead of an extensive prison sentence he would be made to help other youths who might be at risk of using violence.
The defendant's family and friends made emotional apologies to the victim's family. They said that while Dakaj had made a horrible mistake, he was not a danger to society.
Dakaj had no previous criminal convictions, although he was expelled from high school for selling methamphetamine, according to a presentencing report.
Dakaj told a probation officer preparing the report that he was no longer involved in drugs and was carrying his father's gun that night for protection because he had recently been robbed at gunpoint.