Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer is facing criticism from a murder victim’s mother for dropping the death penalty against her son’s accused killer.
Brenda Partch is convinced that Spitzer abandoned the pursuit of justice for her son to cover up racial statements he made while meeting with prosecutors on her son’s case.
Darren Partch was murdered in Newport Beach in 2019.
Spitzer is facing a similar rebuke from within law enforcement that he improperly took the death penalty off the table against Jamon Rayon Buggs in an effort to hide racial comments he made while discussing whether to seek that penalty against Buggs, who is Black.
Spitzer – who has now lost two key endorsements from elected DAs in neighboring counties – hasn’t answered questions about why he dropped the death penalty and didn’t inform the victims’ families, despite requirements under a victim’s rights law that Spitzer himself championed.
Brenda Partch is heartbroken at what feels like being thrown under the bus by Spitzer to protect himself, her attorney said in interviews with Voice of OC after the scandal burst into public this past week.
“She is now left with the impression that the death penalty was taken off the table merely to try to protect the elected district attorney from the release of these racist comments,” said Rick Welsh, an attorney representing Brenda Partch, whose son Darren Partch was murdered in Newport Beach in 2019.
“It has all the apparences that the decision of whether to pursue the death penalty or life without parole was made more to protect Todd Spitzer, than to seek justice for the victims,” he added.
“She is so angry and she is so saddened. She believes that as a result of what has transpired, the man who killed her son has won,” Welsh said of his client.
“She is just shocked and appalled. What she wants is justice for Darren’s killing, and is concerned that the apparent actions of Mr. Todd Spitzer have perverted justice,” Welsh added.
Voice of OC asked Spitzer and his spokeswoman for comment on Partch’s concerns and why Spitzer decided not to pursue the death penalty.
They responded with a statement that did not address the questions, saying instead that the victims have made their stance known and can still do so.
“The victims shared their views on the death penalty with the prosecution team during the deliberative process. They are always welcome to have additional communication at any time,” read the entire response from Spitzer spokeswoman Kimberly Edds.
Asked again why the families weren’t told before the court was about Spitzer’s decision to not pursue the death penalty, the DA’s spokeswoman said a meeting between prosecutors and the victim’s family “was canceled because the family retained a lawyer and he canceled it.”
“We can’t communicate with [attorney] represented parties,” Edds wrote.
But the attorney says that’s a lie.
The meeting Edds is referring to was only scheduled for Feb. 8 – long after the DA’s office officially entered their life-in-prison decision in court on Jan. 28, according to Welsh.
“They are just lying. I don’t like to say that,” Welsh told Voice of OC.
“There was no attempt by the DA’s office to contact my client before the decision was made,” he added.
“This is a case where the government was contemplating asking for a death verdict. And it’s shocking beyond all comprehension that this is what they’re saying,” Welsh continued.
“They don’t seem to be based in reality or fact at all. There’s no tether to fact.”
In response, Edds said “no one is lying,” while acknowledging the families were not told about the death penalty decision before the court was. But she says there was a good reason for that.
“The families were not told before the court because of the compressed timeline” because Spitzer had assigned a new prosecution team to the case, which a judge had just given six weeks to prepare for trial on, Edds said.
Still, the lack of transparency with the victim’s mother is troubling, her attorney said.
“She’s heartbroken. And she wants to know why the mother of Darren Partch was never notified by the District Attorney’s office about what was going on with the prosecution of his murderer.”
For two and a half years, Brenda Partch believed this was a death penalty case, her attorney said, only to find out in public court records that Spitzer had taken that off the table.
“All of a sudden she learned that it’s not death penalty, which is what she would consider justice for her son’s death. And instead it’s life without the possibility of parole,” Welsh said.
Spitzer’s handling of the situation also goes against the very victim’s rights law he touts himself as championing, Welsh said.
“Marsy’s Law was written to ensure victim’s rights and to ensure victims would have the ability to be heard,” Welsh said, referring to the California victim’s rights law passed in 2008.
“Nobody asked [Brenda Partch] for her input with regards to sentencing. They’re supposed to have input at critical stages of the proceedings. And there is perhaps no more critical stage in a special circumstances homicide than whether to seek the death penalty,” he added.
“Although Mr. Spitzer claims to be the father of Marsy’s Law, it appears as though there’s been an egregious violation of the victims’ rights in this case.”
Internal DA memos outline how prosecutors objected when, during an Oct. 1 discussion on whether to seek the death penalty against Buggs, Spitzer made a comment about Black men advancing themselves by dating White women.
Spitzer has acknowledged making a statement about Black men dating white women during the meeting, but claims it was appropriate in the context of the death penalty discussion.
Yet prosecutors who were in the room considered it inappropriate to bring race into the death penalty deliberations, according to the internal memos.
The controversy over the memos was first reported on by Voice of OC earlier this month. This past week, Voice of OC and other media outlets obtained Baytieh’s memos, which were later unsealed by Judge Gregg L. Prickett on Thursday.
[Click here to read the memos that were unsealed by Judge Prickett on Thursday: Internal DA memos and the letter from the lead police detective in Newport Beach.]
Among the documents unsealed Thursday is an explosive letter from the lead detective in one of Orange County’s most high-profile murder cases, in which Jamon Rayon Buggs is accused of murdering two people in Newport Beach in 2019 after breaking up with his White ex-girlfriend.
Newport Beach Lt. Court Depweg wrote that Spitzer had improperly ruined the death penalty case against Buggs, who is Black, by making inappropriate racial remarks and then trying to cover it up.
“It was disappointing that [a prosecutor] and so many of his colleagues would try and cover this matter up as we all know the ‘cover up is always worse than the crime,’ ” Depweg wrote.
“In my twenty plus years of law enforcement experience, I had never heard of an entire district attorney unit being removed from communicating with the lead agency in the prosecution of a homicide,” he added.
The scandal continues to generate fallout, especially with a DA election months away.
Spitzer has now lost two key endorsements, with San Diego County DA Summer Stephan and Riverside County DA Mike Hestrin dropping their support late this week.
“The news of the comments and actions of Mr. Spitzer was shocking, disappointing and in the end inexcusable,” Hestrin said in a statement on Friday reported by the Riverside Press-Enterprise.
“Regardless of the good work Mr. Spitzer and his office have done in the past, I cannot in good conscience support his future candidacy,” he added.
“Residents of Orange County, and all of California’s counties, deserve leaders who appeal to our better angels rather than past divides. It is for these reasons that I must retract my endorsement of Mr. Spitzer in his re-election campaign.”
In response, Spitzer said the two DAs who dropped support for him were reacting based on “misrepresentations or lack of information” but that he would continue supporting both of them.
“These prosecutors are my colleagues and I would never let them or their communities suffer against the Soros-funded and woke candidates who are trying to throw them out of office,” Spitzer said in a statement.
Yet Brenda Partch says it’s Spitzer who has caused her major suffering as a crime victim.
“She has suffered as second trauma when Mr. Spitzer, without any input fom her at all, without contacting her in any way, when he chose to make this a life case…and take the death penalty off the table,” Welsh said.
Welsh said Spitzer’s actions are particularly ironic given that his main campaign message is that he’s protecting OC from the prosecution approach of LA County DA George Gascón, whom Spitzer and others accuse of going easy on violent criminals.
“The man who tries to frighten everyone with the prospect of Gascón,” Welsh said, “has become Gascón in this instance.”
Nick Gerda covers county government for Voice of OC. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.