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After taking a break in their relationship, Sarah Rodriguez, 21, and Matt Corbett, 20, had recently gotten back together — but the high school sweethearts’ reunion was tragically cut short on their way to Bible study.
On April 16, 2003 at 5:20 p.m., officers in Placentia, California responded to 911 reports. A couple in a car had been shot in a residential area. The victims were identified as Sarah, an upbeat preschool teacher, and Matt. Each had been shot multiple times, including in the head.
“We average less than two homicides a year. Plenty of years we have zero homicides,” Chris Stuber, a retired Placentia Police Department detective, told producers of “The Real Murders of Orange County,” airing Sundays at 7/6c and 8/7c on Oxygen.
Police and paramedics rushed to aid the victims, but Sarah was deceased. Matt was clinging to life, but it was not known if he would survive. He was unable to tell police who shot them before being transferred to the hospital. “He had trouble enunciating,” said Stuber. “He was coughing blood.”
Investigators searched the crime scene. They found no bullet casings, which suggested the shooter had used a revolver that doesn’t eject shells.
Sarah’s grief-stricken family reeled at the news of her murder. “I just started screaming,” said her sister, Maria Nunez. Despite their anguish, Sarah’s loved ones shared information about the day’s events before the shooting.
Matt and Sarah had met prior to going to Bible study and they decided to get a bite to eat first. They picked up take-out food at a local restaurant and headed home to eat, but they never made it. The shooter cut them off with his car and confronted them.
The two 911 callers who witnessed the ambush each told police that the shooter was around 6 feet tall and had brown hair. One witness reported that the shooter used a revolver, confirming officials’ suspicions, and drove a black compact car.
“The one thing that became evident rather quickly was that this wasn't a random shooting. It was purposeful and intentional,” said Stuber. “He put the gun against her head and pulled the trigger. That sounds like a furiously angry person.”
Detectives asked Sarah’s family who could harbor a deadly vendetta. They said that while Matt and Sarah were on a hiatus from their relationship, she went out with a man named Richard Namey for about eight months. Nunez described Namey as “obsessed” with her sister.
“It was a pretty tempestuous relationship,” said Claire Luna, a former reporter for the Los Angeles Times. “When it ended he just couldn’t handle it. So he quickly turned violent.
Investigators turned their efforts toward tracking down Namey. They learned he drove a blue El Camino, which emerged as a speed bump in the case because a witness said the shooter drove a black compact car. Was Namey not the shooter?
The answer to that question came from Matt, who was in critical condition but now able to speak.His wounds had left him paralyzed and partially blind but when detectives presented him with a photo array he picked out Namey as the man who gunned him and Sarah down.
As officials dug deeper into the case they discovered that Sarah reported that Namey was stalking her. Between December 2002 and April 2003, there were monthly reports of domestic violence. In her diary, Sarah recounted how he threw things at her, pushed her, and warned her not to get a restraining order.
But after he put his hands around her throat and choked her with enough force to leave a mark, she sought protection. “On April 1, just two weeks before Sarah was killed, she went to court and obtained a restraining order against Richard,” said Corinne Loomis, a retired detective with the Placentia Police Department.
Detectives learned that one of Namey’s other girlfriends had also gotten a protective order. She was so convinced she was in harm’s way “she moved,” said Stuber. “She got out of Dodge.”
Investigators reached out to Namey’s family for information. They described him as a young man who didn’t work, used drugs, and left chaos in his wake.
His sister added an invaluable piece of information. Around the day of the shooting he told her he was having car trouble. She loaned him her black compact sedan, a vehicle like the one the shooter drove.
With a warrant in hand, police searched Namey’s home. They found three suicide notes, addressed to his mother, sister, and daughter in which he didn’t admit to the murders. There was no sign of Namey.
After a promising lead on Namey’s whereabouts turned out to be a dead end, investigators caught up with him after he carjacked a motorist in Santa Ana and led police on a dangerous car chase.
“The pursuit was extensive,” said Ernie Gomez, a retired patrol officer with the Santa Ana Police Department. “Over 40 miles in length, speeds of 120 miles an hour, blowing stop signs, blowing red lights, driving on curbs.” A foot chase followed and Namey was apprehended.
in September 2004, nearly 18 months after the shooting, Namey, 27, stood trial for the murder of Sarah Rodriguez and the attempted murder of Matt Corbett.
The trial lasted a week. The jury deliberated for 10 hours before returning with a guilty verdict. At his sentencing, Sarah’s mother testified and called his daughter’s killer a “ruthless coward.”
Richard Namey was sentenced to 101 years to life in prison.
It was what Sarah Rodriguez wanted. “I swear to God that I hate Richard Namey. I hope he goes to prison for life,” she had written in her diary years earlier, according to the Los Angeles Times.
In a 2006 interview with the Orange County Register, Matt said he missed Sarah “tremendously. She was my first love.”
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