Four years after their videotaped sexual assault of an unconscious 16-year-old girl, three young men, including the son of an ex-assistant sheriff of Orange County, received six-year prison sentences Friday from a judge who said their remorse came too late.
The sentences cap a saga that left one jury deadlocked and centered on 21 minutes of lurid video footage.
"They took away what were supposed to be the best years of my life
As they awaited sentencing at Orange County Superior Court in Santa Ana, Gregory Haidl, 20, Kyle Nachreiner and Keith Spann, both 21, sat before the judge in the orange scrubs of the county jail, the three shackled together at the wrists. "What happened that night was not planned or plotted," Haidl said in a voice so low people strained to hear it. "I wake up every day and feel bad for the people I've hurt."
Haidl and Nachreiner apologized to the victim. Spann said nothing.
Judge Francisco Briseno said minors and first-time offenders usually are not sent to prison, but in this case the defendants had degraded the victim -- laughing and mocking her as she lay unconscious on a pool table -- and were slow to show contrition.
"Their personal remorse for the victim, prior to today, was expressed in guarded fashion and at times seemed outweighed by personal self-pity," the judge said. He said he also considered that the defendants would be "marked" for life, owing to media coverage and the requirement that they register as sex offenders after their release.
The defendants also were each sentenced to three years' parole after their prison terms. Because of time already spent in jail, and with credit for good behavior, Haidl could be freed in 21 months and the others a few months later.
The defendants showed no reaction to their sentences, looking straight ahead as the five-hour hearing neared its end.
Prosecutors asked for 12 years in prison for Haidl, 10 for Nachreiner and six for Spann. "I'd like it to be longer, but I think it's sufficient to send a message to these three men," prosecutor Chuck Middleton said. "If they're smart, they'll learn a lesson and come out and lead a respectable life."
The defendants were considerably bigger than the boys they were when they were arrested. Haidl, who wore a buzz cut, has grown 4 inches to 6 feet tall and packed on 65 pounds.
The crime occurred in the early morning of July 6, 2002, in the Corona del Mar home of Haidl's father, Don Haidl, then an assistant sheriff. There, Haidl, Nachreiner and Spann -- all 17 at the time -- gathered for an alcohol-fueled party with the victim. All four were high school students in Rancho Cucamonga.
Haidl used a Sony video camera to record himself and his friends performing sex acts on the girl, and later left the tape among acquaintances at a Newport Beach summer rental house. A renter's girlfriend, who thought the girl depicted in the footage looked dead, passed the tape to a policeman.
Prosecutors argued that the evidence on the tape was clear: The girl was passed out when the boys took turns violating her body with a variety of objects, including a lighted cigarette, a pool cue and a Snapple bottle.
Defense attorneys argued that the tape, which has not been shown publicly, told a different story. They characterized the girl as an aspiring porn actress who was feigning unconsciousness. They stressed her promiscuity and found former friends to testify that she was a chronic liar.
The defense raised enough doubt that a jury deadlocked in summer 2004, leaning toward acquittal on nearly all counts. At a second trial last March, the jury convicted Haidl of six counts of sexual penetration, Spann of five, and Nachreiner of four. The jury deadlocked or voted to acquit on charges of sexual assault with a deadly weapon, oral copulation and rape.
At sentencing Friday, Judge Briseno had the option of giving the defendants probation or long prison terms -- as many as 18 years for Haidl, 16 for Spann, 14 for Nachreiner.
The day began gray and drizzly, a climate the judge said matched the grim mood of the proceedings inside his 11th-floor courtroom, which was so packed that many of the defendants' supporters had to crowd outside the door.
The hearing began with expressions of remorse and pleas for lenience from the defendants and their families. Haidl's father called his son "a good kid who ended up in a very bad situation."
"There are times I look back and wish I would have been there more for him. I wish I hadn't worked 70 hours. I wish I hadn't volunteered for so many things." He added: "I've had to watch my son grow up through a glass divider." He said his son "never had a mean bone in his body."
Nachreiner blamed his "repugnant acts" in part on alcohol, saying that he has since come to realize the importance of "family, virtue, liberty, support and sobriety." He held a copy of the best-selling Christian book "The Purpose Driven Life" by Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest.