Rancho Santa Fe slaying ‘savage and brutal’ prosecutor says

A man suspected of beating his father to death in the victim’s sprawling Rancho Santa Fe home pleaded not guilty on Friday, June 2, to charges of first-degree murder, with a special allegation of torture.

Leighton Dorey IV, 39, was arrested early Wednesday, May 31, in Idyllwild, a mountain town about 100 miles north of Rancho Santa Fe where his father’s body was discovered the previous day.

Vista Superior Court Judge Cynthia Freeland ordered Dorey held without bail after a prosecutor described a “savage, brutal” killing.

Leighton Dorey III was strangled during a beating so ferocious that his spine was fractured in three places, his skull was cracked, his ribs on both sides were broken and his face was cut in multiple spots, Deputy District Attorney Paul Greenwood said.

He said even experienced homicide detectives described the scene as one of the most brutal they had ever come across.

The special allegation of torture means it is possible the death penalty could be sought in the case. That decision will not be made for some time, Greenwood said.

The prosecutor added that father and son had a well-documented “fractious” relationship for years. He said Tuesday morning, May 30, the victim’s wife — the younger Dorey’s stepmother — left the house at 9 a.m., then called home about two hours later to check on her husband who told her his son had arrived unexpectedly. She rushed back to the house within 15 minutes and found a Jeep in the driveway and her husband dead in the home.

After calling 911, she noticed the Jeep was gone.

The son had been living in France over the last several years and returned to the U.S. last week using airfare paid for by his mother, who lives on the East Coast and was described by Greenwood as wealthy. Greenwood said the woman purchased the Jeep for her son and he then drove it to California.

Dorey IV had been living in Europe, mostly in France, and was a freelance computer programmer. A former employer said the father and son had a rocky relationship, but added that their troubles didn’t seem out of the ordinary.

Greenwood said the victim’s wife and other siblings have been afraid of the younger Dorey for years.

---Harry Jones is a writer for The San Diego Union Tribune