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A Murder and a Fire: One Year Later

Updates on two unusual events in San Juan Capistrano. Part 1: a brutal killing.

EDITOR’S NOTE: It’s not often San Juan Capistrano experiences a murder or a major structure fire. To have both the same day made Dec. 1, 2011, all the more rare. This is the first of a two-part series, updating those two events.

In the predawn hours of Dec. 1, prosecutors say, a San Juan Capistrano drifter hid in some bushes at the San Juan Mobile Estates park, waiting for Bobby Ray Rainwater to emerge from the home he shared with his parents.

Around 5:30 a.m., neighbors heard a scuffle and dogs barking. Rainwater called out in pain. 

Then the noise stopped.

By the time help arrived, Rainwater was dead. Deputies would find him “nearly decapitated,” they would later say.

Soon, a manhunt was on. Aside from identifying the victim, authorities said little, declining to even describe the kind of weapon used. It would later come out that Rainwater, a convicted child offender himself, was stabbed multiple times.

A few days later, deputies were on the trail of a suspect in yet another attack -- one in which the victim barely managed to survive -- when they put two and two together and realized he was the same man wanted in Rainwater’s death.

Robert Eugene Vasquez was indicted in March, charged with one count of murder with a special circumstance for lying in wait and one felony account of aggravated assault, according to the Orange County district attorney’s office.

If convicted, Vasquez, 34, faces life without parole, according to a D.A. press release.

Senior Deputy District Attorney Ebrahim Baytieh is overseeing the case. Named California's Outstanding Prosecutor of the Year this past summer, Baytieh is also the lead prosecutor in another sensational case underway right now, the murder of a Rancho Santa Margarita woman.

Baytieh said Vasquez will be in court Dec. 14, and at that time, a trial date will be set. He’s confident the matter will go to trial sometime in the next year.

“We rarely have pleas in murder cases,” Baytieh said. He’s also certain of a conviction.

“We have all the evidence we need,” he said.

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