Convicted killer wins new trial in Sunset Beach murder

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A 61-year-old man serving a life sentence without parole for murder won a new trial when prosecutors said Thursday they would no longer challenge allegations that his constitutional rights were violated.

An evidentiary hearing on what is known as a Massiah motion was scheduled to begin Thursday for Paul Gentile Smith, who was convicted in November 2010 of the murder of Robert Haugen, 29, on October 24, 1988, at Sunset Beach.

Smith’s attorneys argued that their client’s constitutional rights were violated when inmates at Orange County Jail were asked by law enforcement to seek incriminating statements from the defendant after he he was represented by a lawyer.

Senior Deputy District Attorney Seton Hunt told Orange County Superior Court Judge Patrick Donahue that lawyers for several sheriff’s deputies who would be called as witnesses at the evidence hearing would invoke their rights to the Fifth Amendment against self-incrimination if they were subpoenaed. Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer will not grant immunity to any of them, Hunt said.

“It is clear to the Orange County District Attorney that the petitioner will not get a fair hearing” because the witnesses intended to invoke their Fifth Amendment rights, “Hunt said.

“As a result of this refusal to testify,” Hunt said, prosecutors asked Donahue to order a new trial.

On Monday, lawyers will work with Donahue on legal language to set up a new trial.

Hunt criticized the sheriff’s deputies for withholding evidence of efforts to use the prison informant program to pump Smith information useful to prosecutors during the trial.

The alleged plan to illegally work Smith for incriminating statements was discovered during evidence hearings on similar attempts to trick Scott Dekraai into the confidential informant program, Smith’s lawyers have said.

The program was discovered in the case against Dekraai, the worst mass killer in Orange County history.

The newly uncovered evidence enabled Smith’s attorneys to file a habeas corpus petition, which was necessary as Smith’s convictions were upheld by the appellate judges.

“We are very happy with the result and believe it is a fair result for Mr. Smith and what the government has done to him,” Smith’s lawyer, Deputy Public Defender Sara Ross said after the hearing. .

Deputy Public Defender Scott Sanders, who also represents Smith and was Dekraai’s attorney, said it was “unbelievable what has been kept (from defense attorneys) hidden for a decade.”

Sanders doubted prosecutors were aware of any evidence that MPs were ordering three inmates to seek incriminating statements from Smith.

“We believe it was hidden by several members of the prosecutorial team for a decade,” Sanders said. “Many, many people knew what was going on here, including (Smith’s prosecutor) Ebrahim Baytieh.”

Sanders said, “At the end of the day, we’ll give it another try and we’ll be happy to get it. But… a lot of people would have to pay a dear price.

Smith pleaded guilty before his conviction in 2010 to conspiring with his then girlfriend to solicit an attack on the lead investigator in his murder case, but Sanders and Ross will work to have those charges dismissed.

Smith was convicted of first degree murder and jurors also found an allegation of torture in special circumstances.

Smith and Haugen had been friends for eight or nine years and Smith was a regular customer of Haugen, who was a marijuana trafficker, Baytieh said during the accused’s trial.

Haugen was stabbed 18 times with the victim’s naked body found on his bed with a pillow over his head and a large stereo speaker between his legs which was set on fire.

Smith was linked to the murder after being convicted in a 2007 Las Vegas domestic violence case and police obtained a DNA sample from the accused.

Smith stabbed, tortured and attempted to set fire to Tina Smith, who was unrelated to the accused, in Las Vegas in 2007.

Investigators found bloodstains in Haugen’s apartment which they ultimately associated with Smith.

Convicted killer wins new trial in Sunset Beach murder was last modified: August 5, 2021 by Contributing editor

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