The mother of a slain man on Saturday criticized Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer for committing a “perversion of justice” in removing the death penalty from consideration in the case, saying the prosecutor was only trying to hide his own racially charged comments.
The defendant, Jamon Buggs, is Black, and the couple he is accused of killing was White. Wendi Miller, 48, was a local activist, and Darren Partch, a former pro hockey player, was 38. They were both shot in the head in Newport Beach in April 2019.
Memos written by former Senior Assistant District Attorney Ebrahim Baytieh concerning an Oct. 1 meeting about the case said that prosecutors discussed defendant Buggs‘ record of domestic violence, and Spitzer inquired about the race of Buggs’ previous girlfriends.
In one memo, Baytieh states that he and prosecutor Eric Scarbrough told Spitzer the question was inappropriate. Spitzer disagreed and said he “knows many black people who enhance their status by only dating ‘white women,’ “” according to a separate memo by Baytieh.
Brenda Partch, the mother of victim Darren Partch, said she had been under the impression the office would seek the death penalty, but was informed by someone at the Newport Beach Police Department that prosecutors would instead seek life without the possibility of parole.
Partch spoke through her attorney, Rick Welsh. “This is just another trauma that’s been visited upon her by the office,” he said. “The family was not consulted by the office and had no voice in any of the decisions.”
Under Marsy’s Law, co-written by Spitzer, victims upon request have the right to be notified and informed before any pretrial disposition of the case.
Spitzer has said he was taken out of context regarding the racial comments. In a memo to the judge, he said he was trying to determine potential racial overtones in the case.
But in Partch’s view, Spitzer’s decision was “simply to protect himself from having his own racist comments released publicly,” Welsh said.
A new prosecutor was assigned after Spitzer removed himself and the other prosecutors from the case, to retain its integrity after the allegations of the racial comments were disclosed, he said in a memo to the judge. A trial date is set for mid-March.
DA spokeswoman Kimberly Edds on Saturday refuted that the families didn’t have a say. They did share their views on the death penalty during the deliberation process, she said, but many factors went into the decision.
With the “hasty timeframe, the court inquired whether the case was going to be a death penalty case and immediate notification was made,” Edds said.
Partch has declined to speak with the news media directly.
Also on Saturday, the California and Hawaii chapter of the NAACP issued a statement condemning Spitzer’s remarks.
“The disgusting and atrociously racist beliefs of DA Spitzer disqualifies him from being an elected official at any level of government. The CA/HI NAACP calls for his immediate resignation. No member of modern civilized society would support or even condone these kind of Jim Crow views and statements,” said Rick Callender, president of the California and Hawaii State Conference NAACP.
In the past couple of days, three California district attorneys – of Riverside, San Diego and Alameda counties – withdrew their endorsements of Spitzer’s re-election bid.