SANTA ANA – Trial began Tuesday for a man accused of stabbing a stranger to death during a sudden, unprovoked attack in Garden Grove in 2015.
Surveillance video, played in a Santa Ana courtroom Tuesday during the opening of the trial, shows Troy David Son, then 20, abruptly knocking 19-year-old Bryan Ortega from his bike, stabbing him nearly a dozen times in the upper body and head and grappling with him as the victim tried to escape.
The two didn’t know each other, didn’t exchange any words prior to the attack and didn’t have any friends in common, Deputy District Attorney Mark Birney said. Ortega, a Santa Ana College student, was riding to a friend’s house shortly before 9 p.m. on May 19, 2015; surveillance footage shows Son walking back and forth around Avalon Avenue and Fairview Street, his hands in his pockets.
Police and prosecutors have been unable to determine a motive.
“There is no good sense as to what happened,” Birney told jurors. “This wasn’t a fight, this wasn’t a struggle, it was a premeditated planned attack.”
Son’s attorney, Assistant Public Defender Dave Dziejowski, told jurors the case was “not a whodunnit,” acknowledging that Son killed Ortega. But the defense attorney denied that Son acted with premeditation or planning, instead blaming the killing on “a broken brain in the middle of a psychotic episode.”
“He was reacting to stimuli caused by a mental illness,” Dziejowski said. “Which is not an excuse, but it makes this something other than first-degree murder.”
Investigators initially tied Son to the killing through a red baseball hat that was knocked off during the struggle and left behind.
Months earlier, Son had agreed to provide his DNA to authorities to resolve an unrelated theft case, which police matched to DNA found in the sweat band of the hat, Birney said. A search of Son’s home found blood in his room that tests tied through DNA to Ortega, the prosecutor added.
While Son and Ortega were only months apart in age and grew up within miles of each other, they are not believed to have ever met. Attorneys described both as “happy-go-lucky” teenagers, and Son, his attorney said, was a “class clown.”
Dziejowski told jurors that as Son, now 23, entered adulthood, he was “haunted” by verbal and physical abuse by a step-father, and abuse of some nature by an adult mentor. Son had dropped out of college, was having trouble keeping down a job, had been caught joy-riding a police-owned golf car, was at odds with his mother, and was suffering from a “major depressive disorder, causing a psychotic break,” the defense attorney said.
Source: Orange County Register