An Orange County man was convicted Tuesday of murder for fatally shooting a man and woman inside a Newport Beach condominium, allegedly because of jealousy over an ex-girlfriend.
Jamon Buggs, 47, stared straight ahead as a jury found him guilty of gunning down Darren Partch and Wendi Miller inside Partch’s bedroom in 2019 in an execution-style killing.
Miller’s mother and Partch’s mother hugged and cried together outside the courtroom in Newport Beach after the verdict. Several family members thanked jurors. Buggs faces a maximum sentence of life without the possibility of parole at his sentencing hearing next month.
The case has been mired in controversy since Orange County Dist. Atty. Todd Spitzer made racist comments about the dating habits of Black men during an October meeting about 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 by then-prosecutor Ebrahim Baytieh.
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.
Judge Gregg Prickett is more than halfway finished combing through boxes of documents turned over by the district attorney’s office relating to Spitzer’s comments. Prickett will decide what, if any, of the information should be turned over to Buggs’ defense attorneys at a hearing next month, potentially affecting the sentence Buggs receives.
Defense attorney Michael Hill filed a motion at the start of the trial seeking to dismiss the case based on Spitzer’s alleged violation of the Racial Justice Act.
The law, passed in 2020, prohibits prosecutors from seeking or obtaining a criminal conviction or imposing a sentence based upon race, ethnicity or national origin. Hill argued that Spitzer’s comments and actions have kept Buggs from receiving a fair trial.
Spitzer wrote in a statement that the allegations of “any racial animus or bias against the defendant are baseless and quite frankly offensive.”
During the roughly two-week trial, Buggs’ attorneys argued that he killed Partch, 38, and Miller, 48, in the heat of passion, fueled by what they described as a toxic relationship between Buggs and his ex-girlfriend, Samantha Brewers.
They asked jurors to consider downgrading the murder charge to voluntary manslaughter based on Buggs’ state of mind at the time of the killing.
In late February or early March 2019, Brewers and Partch met at the gym and exchanged usernames on Instagram so they could keep in touch. The two were not dating, but Senior Deputy Dist. Atty. David Porter said Buggs was mistakenly convinced they were a couple.
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. on 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.
Buggs’ attorneys say he mistook Miller for Brewers.
Spitzer has said he asked questions about the race of Buggs’ former girlfriends during the October meeting to address the possible issue of cross-racial identification — how well Buggs, as a Black man, could identify a white woman like Miller.
“There is not one iota of truth that my office is engaged in any racial bias in this case or any other case,” Spitzer said.