An Orange County Superior Court judge ruled Friday that Dist. Atty. Todd Spitzer violated the Racial Justice Act when he made comments about the dating habits of Black men while discussing a double murder case.
However, Judge Gregg Prickett stopped short of imposing any sanctions that would have reduced Jamon Buggs’ sentence. The appropriate remedy in the case — seeking life without the possibility of parole rather than the death penalty — had already been applied by the district attorney’s office, Prickett said.
The Racial Justice Act, passed in 2020, prohibits prosecutors from seeking or obtaining a criminal conviction or imposing a sentence based on race, ethnicity or national origin.
“The defendant has received what the statute would say was the appropriate remedy for the violation,” Prickett said. “The court does not find that it would be in the interest of justice to dismiss enhancements, special circumstances or reduce charges.”
Buggs, who was convicted of murder in May for fatally shooting a man and woman inside a Newport Beach condominium, allegedly in a jealous rage, was sentenced by Prickett to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
“The judge ruled that the defendant was treated fairly by Dist. Atty. Spitzer at every stage of the proceeding, from charging to conviction to the sentence of life without the possibility of parole for executing two innocent people in cold blood,” said Kimberly Edds, a spokeswoman for the district attorney’s office.
During a roughly two-week trial, Buggs’ attorneys argued that he killed Darren Partch, 38, and Wendi Miller, 48, in the heat of passion, fueled by what they described as a toxic relationship between Buggs and his ex-girlfriend, Samantha Brewers.
In late February or early March 2019, Brewers and Partch met at a gym and exchanged Instagram usernames so they could keep in touch. The two were not dating, but Buggs became mistakenly convinced that they were a couple, Senior Deputy Dist. Atty. David Porter said.
Buggs later called Partch to tell him to stay away from Brewers. Partch agreed. But Buggs’ jealousy drew him to Partch’s apartment sometime after 1:45 a.m. April 20, armed with a .38-caliber handgun, Porter said.
While standing in the courtyard of the townhouse, Buggs apparently heard Partch and Miller being intimate in the upstairs bedroom and entered the townhouse through an unlocked door with his gun drawn. He shot Partch twice and Miller once.
Cambria Carpenter, Miller’s daughter, told Buggs during the hearing that because of his actions her mother didn’t get to see her graduate high school. Carpenter said she will never be able to hug her mother, seek her advice or laugh with her again.
Buggs looked toward the podium at Carpenter and blinked rapidly as she spoke.
“Every room that she once lit up is now dim because of you,” Carpenter said. “To me you’re a monster … and you have no value.”
Before he was sentenced, Buggs stood and apologized to Partch’s and Miller’s families, saying his emotions over his ex-girlfriend “took control” of him before the killings.
“I’m sorry this happened. I stand accountable for what I did. I sinned and I ask for forgiveness,” he said.
The case had been mired in controversy since Spitzer made racist comments about the dating habits of Black men during an October staff meeting on whether to pursue the death penalty against Buggs.
At the meeting, Spitzer told prosecutors that he knows “many Black people who get themselves out of their bad circumstances and bad situations by only dating white women,” according to a memo written by then-prosecutor Ebrahim Baytieh, who attended the meeting.
Spitzer has said allegations of “any racial animus or bias against the defendant are baseless and quite frankly offensive.”
Buggs is Black, while Buggs’ ex-girlfriend and Miller are both white. Spitzer has alleged that Baytieh wrote the memo in retaliation because Spitzer had initiated an investigation of him related to another murder case.
In the months leading up to the sentencing hearing, Prickett combed through thousands of emails sent between members of the district attorney’s office about the case to determine what materials, if any, should be provided to Buggs’ defense attorneys.
Late last month, Prickett turned over an unknown number of documents. The documents, which were filed under seal, have not been made public.
Prosecutors argued in court Friday that the defense failed to provide a preponderance of evidence that Spitzer’s comments negatively affected Buggs’ case.
Denise Gragg, one of Buggs’ defense attorneys, said Spitzer’s comments were an example of “the oldest bias that exists” regarding Black men and white women. She added that Spitzer has not acknowledged his comments as biased.
“If you can’t even recognize that is a bias, how can you assure yourself or us that there were not decisions made in this case or not made in this case that were influenced by that bias?” she asked.
“Justice is not just done from the jury box,” she added. “It’s done from the back halls; it’s done in chambers…. That is the place where this case was damaged.”