A 47-year-old man was convicted Tuesday of fatally shooting a man and woman in a Newport Beach home three years ago.
Jamon Rayon Buggs was convicted of two counts of murder with special circumstances of more than one victim, and single felony counts each of attempted burglary and possession of a firearm by a felon. Jurors, who began deliberating about 4 p.m. Monday and reached verdicts about 11 a.m. Tuesday, also found true sentencing enhancements for the discharge of a firearm causing death.
Buggs, who is scheduled to be sentenced June 3, faces life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Buggs was convicted of killing 48-year-old Wendi Sue Miller of Costa Mesa and 38-year-old Darren Donald Partch of Newport Beach. The two were found dead in Partch’s residence at Villa Siena, 2101 E. 15th St.
“Three years ago tomorrow the defendant, armed with a .38-caliber revolver, was standing in the courtyard directly below Darren Partch’s bedroom,” Senior Deputy District Attorney Dave Porter said in his opening statement. “He could hear Darren Partch with someone he thought was his ex-girlfriend. He could not be more wrong.”
The couple were “being intimate, enjoying each other’s company,” as Buggs took advantage of their forgetting to lock the front door, Porter said.
“He walked up the stairs to hear Wendi and Darren getting louder and louder,” Porter said.
Buggs continued down a short hallway and then into the bedroom where the couple “got the shock of their lives,” Porter said.
Partch jumped up out of bed and Miller rolled over the other side, Porter said.
The first bullet ripped through Partch’s shoulder, spinning him around.
Miller “had nowhere to run, no place to hide, no way to defend herself” as Buggs “placed the gun on the right side of her head and pulled the trigger,” Porter said.
The nude victims “died in a pool of blood,” Porter said.
Buggs sought Partch because he mistakenly thought he was dating the defendant’s ex-girlfriend, Samantha Brewers, Porter said. However, Partch only met Brewers once at a 24 Hour Fitness gym in Costa Mesa and the two exchanged some messages on Instagram, Porter said.
“Darren Partch and Wendi Miller were both shot in the head and killed and this defendant did it,” Porter said.
Brewers had moved to California from Minnesota and was living in Murrieta when she met Buggs a fitness center there, Porter said.
Brewers was looking for a new fitness trainer and hired Buggs and the relationship evolved into a romance, Porter said.
When Buggs got a better job in Huntington Beach the two moved there, Porter said.
But when he later quit his job it “put a strain on the relationship” and Brewers moved out, but the two stayed in touch, Porter said.
By Thanksgiving 2018, Brewers told him the relationship was over, but he would not accept that, Porter said.
When Buggs saw Brewers and Partch connect on Instagram, “He wanted to know who Darren Partch was,” Porter said.
Buggs used premium web services to track down telephone numbers and addresses for Partch, Porter said.
Buggs called Partch and “threatened” him, Porter said.
Partch was “totally shocked,” Porter said. “But he said no problem I’ll stay away from her.”
Partch called Brewers and told her didn’t want any part of “drama” with Buggs and Brewers, Porter said.
“And that was it,” Porter said. “But in the defendant’s mind they were still a couple.”
Brewers was dating a chiropractor, Jared Young, so Buggs also confronted him, Porter said.
Brewers also called police in the weeks leading up to the murder one night when she saw that Buggs was following her home from a gym, Porter said.
Investigators found numerous online searches Buggs had done for Brewers, Young and Partch, Porter said.
Partch first met Miller at the Sandpiper Bar in Laguna Beach April 19, 2019, and left the club about 1 a.m., April 20, to return to Partch’s home, Porter said.
One of Miller’s friends said to text her when she arrived at Partch’s residence, which Miller did, Porter said. It was the last message she sent anyone, Porter added.
Later on April 20, after the couple was killed, an Irvine resident reported an attempted burglary at a two-story townhouse at 818 Silk Tree in Irvine about 4:30 p.m. Buggs climbed up the second-story balcony looking for Jared Young, but unbeknownst to him he was on the property of someone else with the same name, Porter said.
The resident made eye contact with the defendant after she investigated the source of a loud thump on the balcony, Porter said. She dashed over to the screen door, locked it and screamed, Porter said.
Buggs scrambled down as she called police, and he fired his gun, Porter said. Buggs later told police it was an accidental firing of the gun.
Police set up surveillance in the neighborhood and later caught sight of him, but when an officer attempted a traffic stop Buggs took off and led police on a high-speed pursuit that ended in a cul de sac where he bailed out and was eventually found hiding behind a tree, Porter said.
Police found his bag filled with a gun and a notebook with Partch’s phone numbers and address, Porter said. The gun matched ballistics tests for the double-murder weapon, the prosecutor added.
Sarah Hefling of the Associate Defender’s Office asked jurors to focus on Buggs’ “mental state” on the night of the killings.
“This is something other than first-degree murder,” Hefling said.
Defense attorneys argued for voluntary manslaughter and acknowledged that second-degree murder would also be more appropriate than first-degree murder.
The defense attorneys also argued it was a case of mistaken identity as Miller resembled Brewers.
“Mental state is an issue in this case,” she said. “Jamon Buggs did not act in a premeditated and deliberate manner.”
Buggs met Brewers in March 2017 and the two quickly fell in love with Brewers becoming close to Buggs’ family, Hefling said.
“This was not a casual dating relationship,” she said. “They saw themselves as a power couple.”
The two moved to Huntington Beach because Buggs got a much more high-profile fitness job, but “within a few months (the relationship) started to fall apart,” Hefling said.
The two had an on-again, off-again dynamic to their relationship, Hefling said. When Buggs wanted to move on, Brewers would “woo him back,” she said.
Brewers would send Buggs sexually charged messages on the phone and the two would continue their romantic relationship when they were supposed to have broken up, Hefling said.
“It’s just a continuing roller coaster,” Hefling said of the relationship.
Buggs was seeking to clarify where they stood when he was searching for information on Partch, Hefling said.
“The torture of not knowing … is pushing him to a place … to find the closure he thinks he needs,” Hefling said.