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Man charged in execution-style murders of ex-wife and her father

Orange County prosecutors allege that he waited to shoot them at his Costa Mesa home just hours after losing custody of the couple's 7-year-old daughter, who was sent out for ice cream with his current wife.

May 06, 2011|By Lauren Williams and Robert J. Lopez, Los Angeles Times
  • Police crime scene tape and yellow tarps surround Robert Lehmann's house in the 3400 block of Santa Clara Circle in Costa Mesa, where he allegedly killed his ex-wife and her father in a child custody dispute.
Police crime scene tape and yellow tarps surround Robert Lehmann's… (Mark Boster / Los Angeles…)

A Costa Mesa man has been charged with the execution-style murders of his ex-wife and her father after allegedly waiting to kill them at his home just hours after she was awarded sole custody of their 7-year-old daughter.

The slayings shocked neighbors in the quiet residential neighborhood not far from South Coast Plaza, where prosecutors allege the gunman chased his victims into the street Tuesday evening as he reloaded his weapon and continued to fire as they lay bleeding on the ground.

Robert Lehmann, 36, was charged Wednesday with two counts of special circumstances murder with sentencing enhancements for using a weapon, lying in wait and committing multiple murders, according to the Orange County district attorney's office. He is scheduled to be arraigned June 24.

His ex-wife, Emily Ford, 32, who worked as a preschool aide at a nearby school, had arrived at Lehmann's home on Santa Clara Circle to pick up the child with her father, Russell Ford, 62. The mother had left her 3-month-old son, who is not Lehmann's child, in a car seat inside her vehicle.

Earlier in the day, Emily Ford had been awarded sole custody and sole decision-making powers regarding the education of her daughter after Lehmann failed to appear at a custody trial, according to records filed in Orange County Superior Court.

Lehmann was angry about the custody order and, before his ex-wife arrived, sent the daughter and his current wife out to buy an ice cream, prosecutors said. As he opened the door, he allegedly began shooting at Emily Ford and her father. They ran into the street, with Lehmann following them.

"Lehmann is accused of pursuing them outside and continuing to shoot," Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas said in a statement. "As Emily Ford and Russell Ford lay bleeding on the ground, Lehman is accused of reloading his firearm and executing the victims by shooting them repeatedly in the back and back of the head."

Shots streaked past the vehicle containing Emily Ford's baby and struck cars across the street, where parents had parked to pick up their children at a day-care center. No other injuries were reported.

Afterward, police cordoned off parts of Lehmann's modest, single-story house with yellow crime scene tape. A thin trail of blood had dried and was crusted on the path that led to the well-manicured lawn.

A brown truck parked in the driveway had the license plate "Dady ? AJ."

Marco Antonio Arroyo, who lives two homes away, said the family always seemed very happy.

Lehmann's daughter often played outside the home, Arroyo said, adding that her father was always very affectionate with her.

"I would have never imagined," Arroyo said. "Never! I never saw anything contrary. They always seemed happy."

The girl is a special-needs student who attends Sonora Elementary School in Costa Mesa, officials said.

Emily Ford was a special-education preschool instructional aide who worked with autistic children at Paularino Elementary School in Costa Mesa. She also waited tables part-time at Morton's steakhouse in Santa Ana, court records show.

Colleagues at the school described Ford as engaging and well liked by the staff.

"She was a wonderful, nice lady who always had a smile on her face," said Principal Stacy Lynne de Boom-Howard. "She was very happy with where her life was. She was in a very happy relationship."

Russell Ford was an educator with the Santa Ana Unified School District from 1978 to 2010.

Court records show that the custody battle began amicably when the couple separated in 2004 after 10 months of marriage. But tensions surfaced when Emily Ford wanted a divorce and was set to remarry in 2009, according to court documents filed by her attorney.

Lehmann worked for Hewlett-Packard Co. as a "solution architect," according to court papers, and grossed more than $13,000 a month.

In 2009, Ford alleged in the court filings, Lehmann threatened to stall the divorce unless she reached an agreement with him outside of court on custody and support issues.

The records show that Lehmann questioned Ford's parenting skills, saying that their daughter had gotten scratches while on the school playground,

In the end, the court sided with Ford and ordered her to pick up the daughter from Lehmann's house at 6 p.m. Tuesday — the same time she was killed.

lauren.williams@latimes.com

robert.lopez@latimes.com

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