A former college student pleaded guilty Tuesday to killing his parents and also shooting his 8-year-old brother, who was left paralyzed, in San Juan Capistrano about two and a half years ago.
Ashton Colby Sachs, now 22, was 19 when he killed Bradford Hans Sachs, 57, and Andra Resa Sachs, 54, who were found dead about 2 a.m. Feb. 9, 2014, inside their home in the 32000 block of Peppertree Bend.
The defendant also shot his 8-year-old brother, Landon, and fired at -- but missed, his 17-year-old sister, Alexis, authorities said.
Sachs, who pleaded guilty to two counts each of murder and attempted murder, is scheduled to be sentenced on Oct. 14 to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Prosecutors decided against seeking the death penalty.
Two of the murdered couple's daughters were in the residence at the time of the shootings, but they were unable to identify the killer that night, according to Senior Deputy District Attorney Ebrahim Baytieh, who filed the case against Sachs.
The parents' business background complicated the investigation, according to Justin Montano, the primary detective on the case. The couple -- who were divorced but still lived under the same roof -- had extensive real estate holdings, and investigators early on looked into whether their deaths were related to their business dealings, he said.
Phone records, witness statements and other evidence ultimately pointed to their son, Baytieh said.
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Sachs, wearing a yarmulke and orange jail jumpsuit, sat next to his court-appointed investigator, Alfredo Rasch, during today's hearing. Sachs had won the right to defend himself before he decided to plead guilty Tuesday in a move that caught prosecutors by surprise.
Orange County Superior Court Judge Gregg Prickett methodically went through the legal admonitions with Sachs to make sure he understood what he was doing. Each time, Sachs would reply, "Yes, your honor.''
"You understand that if you plead guilty to these charges, you will never be released from prison?'' Prickett asked Sachs.
"Yes, I do, your honor,'' he replied.
The current prosecutor on the case, Senior Deputy District Attorney Mike Murray, said that the plea was a stunner.
"I think that whatever caused him to change his mind definitely caught people on our side by surprise,'' Murray said. "I don't know what it was that (motivated the plea), but I do know that recently Sachs was caught misusing his phone privileges, which had been given to him for the purpose of facilitating his pro per status, so I know that probably there were going to be some repercussions from that.''
It was possible Sachs would either lose his phone privileges or have them significantly curtailed, Murray said. Instead of using the phone to help with his defense, Sachs "was basically using it so other inmates could have access to the phones and have three-way calls and things like that,'' he said.
Murray suspects Sachs wanted to defend himself so "he could abuse the privileges for his own benefit.''
Sachs wrote a couple of letters to Murray asking for leniency to push back the trial date, but the prosecutor did not respond.
"I think it (the plea) was a good result out of a tragic situation,''
Murray said, adding that he's glad the defendant's siblings don't have to go through testifying at a trial.
As for why the defendant attacked his family, Murray said he "couldn't begin to try to figure out what motivated him.''
Even if Sachs was motivated by some turmoil between his parents when they split up while Sachs was a child, it still wouldn't explain why he would try to kill his siblings, Murray said.
"I'll never be able to fathom that,'' he said.
The couple was described by neighbors as being "the best family" before the shocking revelation of the murders.
Sachs also admitted special circumstance allegations of multiple murders and sentence-enhancing allegations of the personal use of a firearm causing death, personal use of a gun causing bodily injury and causing paralysis.