SANTA ANA (CNS) - A 35-year-old man was sentenced Friday to 28 years to life in prison for gunning down a transient at the doorway of his Motel 6 room in Westminster in a racially inflamed conflict.
Jonathan Breon Dunlap was convicted March 30 of voluntary manslaughter and discharge of a firearm at an inhabited dwelling, both felonies. Jurors also found true sentencing enhancements for discharge of a firearm causing death and the personal use of a firearm.
Jurors acquitted Dunlap of first- and second-degree murder. But because of a prior strike and the sentencing enhancements, he faced 36 to 44 years to life in prison.
Dunlap killed 37-year-old John Nondorf at the motel at 13100 Goldenwest St. on Dec. 2, 2017.
Witnesses said Nondorf, who was white, called Dunlap, who is Black, racial slurs, while some witnesses said they heard slurs for whites coming from the group Dunlap was with, according to Senior Deputy District Attorney Janine Madera.
Nondorf's fiance, Marissa Calvillo, testified during the trial that the insults were "50-50," Madera said in her closing argument of the case.
Nondorf and Calvillo lived out of a Rav4, but "they came into money" and were staying at the motel at the time, Madera said. As was his habit, Nondorf looked through the peep hole "for safety reasons," and "said something about someone being under their car," Madera said.
When a bat-wielding Nondorf confronted the defendant, Dunlap allegedly said, "(Expletive) your car," Calvillo testified, according to Madera.
Calvillo acknowledged that Nondorf called Dunlap the "N-word," Madera said.
"She heard the defendant called him (Nondorf) cracker," Madera said. "But she could not remember who (insulted the other) first."
Calvillo then saw a friend of Dunlap's grab a gun out of the backseat of a car, prompting the 23-year-old woman to holler, "She's got a gun," according to Madera.
Calvillo went to "call the cops," but with her back to the ongoing dispute she never made the call as she heard a loud noise that at first she thought was the sound of the bat tumbling to the ground, Madera said.
Both the prosecutor and defense attorney Cameron Talley used motel surveillance video to make their case. At issue was whether Nondorf was attacking the defendant with the bat when Dunlap opened fire or if he was retreating.
The conflict lasted just under 90 seconds before Nondorf was shot in the face and shoulder.
Cristina Serrato, the girlfriend of David Blow, who was seen among the group in the confrontation, also testified that she heard Nondorf uttering racist slurs against Blacks the day before. Serrato and Blow were also staying at the motel and were getting ready to go to a concert that night before the fight erupted.
"She has night blindness and was not wearing her glasses," Madera said of Serrato. She had also done some cocaine that night, the prosecutor added.
"An abundance of things she said happened did not," the prosecutor said of Serrato, who testified under immunity.
Serrato testified Nondorf said "stay away from my car," and she heard Dunlap reply, "My bad."
Serrato also testified that Calvillo also said the "N-word" during the conflict.
"She said there was profanity and racial slurs on both sides," Madera said.
Serrato also said she heard Nondorf say something about being a "grand dragon," a reference to the Ku Klux Klan.
"Her testimony about the gun was all over the place," Madera said. "She said she saw Mr. Dunlap and the victim fighting over the bat. We didn't see that in the video."
Serrato also claimed she saw Nondorf with the bat over his head, poised to attack before he was shot, Madera said.
"But we know that didn't happen. Nothing near that ever happened," Madera said.
Madera argued it was a case of first-degree murder.
"When you shoot someone in the face you intend to kill them," Madera said.
The prosecutor argued that everything Nondorf owned was in the room and that he had a right to protect his belongings with the bat.
"Let's say for the sake of argument he was swinging that bat like mad," Madera said. "(Dunlap) was in no danger to anyone who stayed out of (Nondorf's) home."
She disputed Dunlap's claim of self-defense.
"That's not standing your ground -- that's revenge," Madera said of the motivation to shoot Nondorf.
Nondorf "decided he brought a pee wee bat to a gun fight so he withdrew" before he was shot, Madera said.
Madera said police never recovered the gun used in the shooting.
During his closing argument, Talley re-enacted much of the dispute with the blood-spattered bat, arguing that the stains on it show it had to be held aloft at the time Nondorf was shot.
"In what sense is Mr. Nondorf a victim," Talley said. "He provokes a fight, he introduces lethal force when he brings a bat out."
Dunlap "gets to shoot a guy charging him with a bat," Talley argued.
Talley also argued that Calvillo was lying when she said she was trying to call police and had her back turned when Nondorf was shot.
Calvillo's testimony was "almost nothing but lies," Talley argued.
Talley also disputed the "false equivalency" of the racial slurs. He said the "N-word" is a "loaded word with a lot of history of violence behind it."
Talley argued the video showed Nondorf's arm "coming out of the room" right before he was shot. He denied Madera's argument that Dunlap can be seen "punching into the room."
If Nondorf wanted to "protect (his) things then close your door," Talley said.
Talley argued Blow can be seen jumping back before shots were fired "because of the bat."
Talley asked the jurors to consider a role reversal and imagine a fictional white Chad Wentworth III shooting in self-defense after being attacked by a bat-wielding Black man at a fancy hotel in Laguna Niguel.
"Do you think Chad would be charged with murder?" Talley argued. "And can you imagine the howls of justice for Chad?"
Talley argued Madera has to "prove it's not self-defense. Are we really a color-blind society? Your vote will tell us a great deal about that."