In Santa Ana, California, a Long Beach man sat motionless in court as he was convicted of killing a high school friend in 1988 and setting the body on fire in an unsuccessful effort to destroy evidence. A nine-woman, three-man jury deliberated for two days before finding Paul Gentile Smith guilty of the first-degree murder of Robert Haugen, 29, plus the special circumstances of committing murder by torture. The jury did not find that he committed the murder during a robbery.
The special circumstances verdict could lead to a term of life in prison without the possibility of parole for Smith, 50, when he is sentenced Nov. 29 by Superior Court Judge William R. Froeberg. Smith, who was surrounded by five deputy sheriffs for the reading of the verdicts, was quickly handcuffed and led out of the courtroom.
The Oct. 24, 1988 murder of Robert Haugen was a mystery from the outset. Haugen was stabbed 18 times, and almost decapitated, in his Sunset Beach apartment on Oct. 24, 1988, before his body was set on fire. Orange County sheriff's detectives knew he was a marijuana dealer, but they did not know that Smith was one of his customers. After dozens of people were interviewed in the aftermath of the slaying, the case went cold.
But forensic investigators at the crime scene managed to isolate, collect and preserve blood drops that did not belong to the victim, and that effort proved to be Smith's undoing. DNA technology to match suspects to genetic material at crime scenes did not exist in 1988, but it was universally accepted science in courtrooms across the country by 2007. And that's when Smith was arrested in Las Vegas on domestic violence charges for cutting his girlfriend, with whom he had been having a sadomasochistic relationship, according to testimony presented during his trial.
Because of his conviction in that case, his DNA profile was entered into a national database. Orange County sheriff's investigators had already entered the characteristics of the DNA extracted from the foreign blood droplets recovered from the Haugen murder scene. It didn't take long for the system to turn up a match: Smith was the donor of the foreign blood found in Haugen's apartment.
Before then, Smith was unknown to sheriff's investigators. They soon learned that he had been an elementary, junior high and high school friend of Haugen's, and had purchased marijuana from him. Smith acknowledged in interviews that he bought marijuana from Haugen the day before the murder. But he denied any involvement in the slaying, and claimed he only heard about the slaying a few days later from another friend who read newspaper accounts.
Smith also initially denied leaving any blood in the apartment, until he learned that detectives were focusing on him as a suspect because of his DNA. Then Smith changed his story and claimed he remembered nicking himself on his hand with scissors from his Swiss Army knife while he was cleaning and trimming the high-grade marijuana he had just purchased.
Baytieh argued that Smith fabricated the story about nicking himself, and that those circumstances proved beyond reasonable doubt that Smith was guilty of Haugen's murder. Baytieh also introduced evidence that Smith confessed the crime to a jailhouse informant. His defense attorney argued that Smith had no reason to kill his longtime friend and marijuana supplier, and was being framed in part by the jailhouse snitch who was seeking a more lenient sentenced from prosecutors.
Smith is also charged in a separate case with conspiracy to commit aggravated assault, attempted aggravated assault, and two felony counts of solicitation to commit aggravated assault for allegedly seeking to hire someone to assault the lead detective investigating the Haugen murder.
If you have been charged with muder, plus the special circumstances of committing murder by torture, it’s critical that you obtain the legal services of an experienced Los Angeles and San Fernando Valley murder criminal defense attorney. Murder with special circumstances of committing murder by torture are very serious charges that can land you in a California state prison for decades. At Goldstein Law Group, attorneys Michael A. Goldstein and James A. Goldstein have more than 47 years of experience in dealing with state and federal murder charges. We have also represented individuals on all different types of state and federal violent crimes charges.
At Goldstein Law Group, we have a proven record of success and will aggressively fight your charges to help you avoid a conviction. To schedule a free, strictly confidential, consultation, please contact a homicide criminal defense lawyer today!