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Not guilty plea in O.C. beating death

September 27, 2008|Christine Hanley | Times Staff Writer

A decorated Iraq war veteran pleaded not guilty Friday to beating his girlfriend to death in his San Clemente condominium earlier this month.

John Wylie Needham, 25, was arrested and charged after Orange County sheriff's deputies found his girlfriend, 19-year-old Jacqwelyn Joann Villagomez, in his bedroom severely beaten. She died a few hours later.

Needham's family and a large group of other supporters filled one side of the courtroom Friday as they waited most of the day for his arraignment. The proceeding was delayed twice because he had not been transported from the nearby county jail as scheduled by sheriff's deputies.

According to prosecutors, Needham answered the door naked and had to be subdued with a Taser after deputies responded to a report of an argument between Villagomez and another young woman at the upscale condo complex over Labor Day weekend.

Needham, a surfer who liked to write poems and play his guitar, enlisted in the Army two years ago, hoping to make his family proud, according to his brothers. He was honorably discharged after being wounded in combat last year, and was awarded a Purple Heart for the injury.

He returned from Iraq a changed man, with severe mental problems and nightmares and still in pain from shrapnel wounds to his legs and back, according to his family. They knew he was struggling but did not expect him to turn violent, they said.

Villagomez, 19, was an aspiring model who grew up in the Central Valley city of Turlock. She graduated from El Toro High School in Lake Forest, where she was a member of the track team.

Needham is being held in lieu of $1 million bail.

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christine.hanley@latimes.com

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