Orange County Courthouse. Photo by John Schreiber.
Orange County Courthouse. Photo by John Schreiber.

A 54-year-old man choked his boss to death in the victim’s office/condominium in Santa Ana to “silence” him so the defendant wouldn’t have to face rape allegations, a prosecutor told jurors Wednesday.

Gerald Guy Byrne’s attorney, however, told jurors that prosecutors fingered the wrong man in the beating and strangulation of 69-year-old Charles Samo.

“On July 19, 2009, Charlie Samo turned 69. It was his birthday, and it was the last birthday he would celebrate, and that’s because the defendant violently confronted Mr. Samo … and continued to compress his neck until he killed him,” said Senior Deputy District Attorney Cynthia Herrera. “Angry and determined to not be apprehended by law enforcement for rape, he killed Mr. Samo.”

The victim, whose bloodied body was found in his bed a few days after his birthday, was a retired fire marshal who had started a new career as an expert witness in personal injury cases, the prosecutor said. She said he lived and worked in his condo at 2522 W. MacArthur Blvd.

His accused killer came into his life via a prostitute who Samo had befriended, Herrera said.

Samo took Melinda Quecke Hale “under his wing” and put her to work as an assistant, according to the prosecutor, who said Hale had an “on-again, off- again” relationship with Byrne for years.

Hale convinced the victim to hire Byrne to do odd jobs for him, but she started to grow uncomfortable around Byrne at work, Herrera said.

On July 18, 2009, Hale took the defendant — who had no permanent address and would stay at his boss’ place on occasion — to her Tustin home, where Byrne allegedly raped her, Herrera said.

“It was only after she said she would vomit that he stopped sexually assaulting her,” the prosecutor said.

Byrne took off with her car when he parted with Hale, Herrera said.

The next day, after appealing to Byrne to return her car, she told her boss that the defendant raped her, Herrera said. Byrne vehemently denied the allegation, but Samo sided with Hale and told the defendant he ought to run, according to the prosecutor, who said Hale reluctantly called police to report the alleged rape.

On July 20, 2009, no one was able to contact Samo. His death was discovered when a housekeeper entered the condo about 10 p.m. on July 21, the prosecutor said. Samo’s bedroom was ransacked and his car was missing. It was found four days later in a parking lot of Santiago Park.

Byrne fled to Washington, but he was later apprehended by police on an unrelated charge, Herrera said.

Investigators found the defendant’s DNA under the fingernails of the victim, and Byrne’s blood was found at the crime scene and on the victim’s hands, Herrera alleged.

Byrne’s attorney, Jeremy Dolnick of the Alternate Defender’s Office, said Samo would send Hale and Byrne out to score drugs for him. Hale was addicted to heroin at the time of the killing and her nickname for the victim was “sugar daddy,” Dolnick said.

Hale was sleeping with both the victim and defendant while engaged to another man she eventually married, Dolnick said. On the day of the killing, she was struggling with withdrawal symptoms, he said.

When she drove Byrne home the night she accused him of raping her, she was on heroin and she told him that she was going to break up with her fiancee, Dolnick said.

Byrne did not steal Hale’s car, according to Dolnick. Rather, she sent him out to get some food in her car, the defense attorney said.

About a year ago, Hale changed her story and said Byrne did not rape her, Dolnick said.

“She’s going to tell you Mr. Byrne never raped her,” he said.

It’s not surprising the defendant’s DNA was found in the condo since he would often stay there, Dolnick said. He said his client fled the state after Samo’s death because he was on probation since 2008.

City News Service

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