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The Real Murders of Orange County Preview: What To Know About The Damon Nicholson Slaying

The brutal bludgeoning death of a man known as a "peacemaker" shocked the Southern California coastal community.

By Joe Dziemianowicz

In his close circle of family and friends, Damon Nicholson was known as a kind and caring “peacemaker.” So it was doubly tragic that his life ended so violently at his home in Laguna Beach, California. 

How to Watch

Watch The Real Murders of Orange County on Peacock and catch up on the Oxygen App.

In 2009, Nicholson was bludgeoned to death at his apartment and then robbed. The murder, which is the focus of Real Murders of Orange County's season three premiere, shocked the Southern California coastal community known for upscale lifestyles, sunshine as well as wine-tossing Housewives. The slaying was yet another gruesome reminder that beautiful places aren’t immune from horrific crimes.

RELATED: Lobster Dinners Lead Investigators To OC Teen Who Beat Elderly Neighbor To Death

The Real Murders of Orange County, which chronicles the area’s most brutal and salacious homicides, returns for a third season Friday, May 26 at 9/8c on Oxygen. Before the show returns, here’s what to know about the Nicholson case that’s covered in the premiere episode. 

Who was the victim, Damon Nicholson?

A longtime Orange County resident, Nicholson, 40, worked as a catering and events manager at Hotel Laguna, according to the OC Weekly. He was known for his outgoing personality and for hosting festive celebrations, including a spectacular Fourth of July party. He enjoyed photography, Trivial Pursuit, and cracking up his friends with one of his signature “silly jokes," the Orange County Patch reported.

How was Damon Nicholson murdered?

In the early morning hours of October 23, 2009, two men later identified as Jacob Anthony Quintanilla and Matthew Thomas Dragna entered Nicholson’s apartment through an unlocked door. They allegedly beat his head and body with a baseball bat, according to The Advocate. They were also accused of stealing his laptop computer, cell phone, and other electronics.

Nicholson’s body was found by a hotel coworker, who checked up on him when he didn’t come to work, the Los Angeles Times reported. Nicholson had a fractured skull and a bruise above his hip.

How were Damon Nicholson’s killers identified?

Police identified the suspects after interviewing contacts from a gay dating website, reported OC Weekly. Police found property belonging to Nicholson in Dragna’s home as well as in the trash nearby. DNA evidence at the Laguna Beach murder scene was also traced to a suspect, according to various reports.

How did the killers know Damon Nicholson?

Dragna, a 19-year-old high school dropout, met Nicholson the day before the killing. He went to Nicholson’s Laguna Beach home for a sexual liaison along with a friend who knew the victim, according to The OC Register. Dragna returned a day later with Quintanilla, then 20, according to reports.

How were Damon Nicholson’s killers brought to justice?

Dragna was charged with Nicholson's murder and taken into custody in November 2009,The Los Angeles Times reported. Quintanilla was arrested in December, according to another L.A. Times report.

A series of delays for the trial of the two suspects raised concerns about why the wheels of justice were turning so slowly in the case. Some questioned if it was because Nicholson was gay, the Advocate reported. Later legal twists raised the issue that law enforcement “botched” the case. 

To find out how Damon Nicholson’s murder was finally resolved and about other cases in this coastal area, watch The Real Murders of Orange County, airing Friday, May 26 at 9/8c on Oxygen.