Trio accused of killing New Zealand tourist to remain in jail without bail

Malachi Darnell, Leroy McCrary and Jaden Cunningham wait during their court arraignment
From left, Malachi Darnell, Leroy McCrary and Jaden Cunningham wait in a screened room during a court appearance Wednesday at the Central Justice Center in Santa Ana. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Three men charged with the murder of a 68-year-old New Zealand woman dragged to her death during an attempted robbery at Newport Beach’s Fashion Island mall appeared in a Santa Ana courtroom Wednesday and were ordered held without bail.

Prosecutors charged Leroy Ernest Joseph McCrary, 26, of Los Angeles; Malachi Eddward Darnell, 18, also of Los Angeles; and Jaden Cunningham, 18, of Lancaster with special circumstances murder. The trio could be sentenced to death if they are convicted of killing Patricia "Trish" McKay in the commission of a robbery, with a felony enhancement of causing the death of a person over the age of 65. California has had a moratorium on carrying out the death penalty since 2019 and has not executed anyone since 2006.

The three men, who were dressed in orange jail shirts over white T-shirts, appeared in a protective pen with a metal screen dividing them from court officials and the public. Through their attorneys, they agreed to postpone entering a plea to the charges until Aug. 1.

During the proceedings, the three looked out at relatives and friends in the Santa Ana courtroom. Darnell blew a kiss to someone in the crowd.

Read more: L.A. robber stole Rolex, got no-prison deal from D.A. Now he's accused of killing tourist at mall

McCrary, the alleged leader of the armed robbery crew who Orange County prosecutors say was at the wheel of the Toyota Camry that dragged McKay 65 feet, has a long criminal history, according to court records.

He was convicted in a 2020 case of making criminal threats, a felony. Last year, he pleaded no contest to being a narcotics addict in possession of a firearm, and he was convicted in a separate robbery case of stealing a Rolex from a man at gunpoint in Santa Monica.

He avoided prison time in the latter case after prosecutors agreed to suspend a three-year sentence, which ran concurrent to his sentencing in the gun possession case, according to interviews and records reviewed by The Times.

In addition to the murder charge against him now, McCrary also faces charges of felony attempted second-degree robbery and evading while driving recklessly. Darnell faces charges of second-degree attempted robbery, attempted murder and personal use of a firearm, as well as a felony enhancement of personal discharge of a firearm. Cunningham is also charged with attempted second-degree robbery in addition to murder.

Read more: 'Senseless death': Three men charged with killing New Zealand tourist during Newport Beach robbery

Patricia McKay and husband Douglas McKay, a well-known Auckland businessman, were waiting for a ride after shopping at Newport Beach’s Fashion Island on July 2 when a white Toyota Camry pulled up outside the mall next to the couple, and two men in masks jumped out. One of the men put a gun to Douglas McKay's head and demanded his watch as they forced him to the ground, according to prosecutors.

Cunningham is accused of tossing Trish McKay to the ground as she held several shopping bags and then dragging her into the street in front of the Camry while trying to snatch her shopping bags.

Jaden Cunningham waits during a court appearance.
From left, Jaden Cunningham, Leroy McCrary and Malachi Darnell wait Wednesday during a court appearance on charges of killing a woman during a robbery attempt outside Fashion Island mall in Newport Beach. Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times

Her husband jumped in front of the vehicle in an effort to stop it from running over his wife, but authorities say McCrary drove it forward, pushing him out of the way and running over the woman, then dragging her body 65 feet under the car.

As Cunningham ran after the getaway car, another man seeking to intervene gave chase. Darnell, who by then was back inside the car, is accused of firing three shots at the good Samaritan.

Witnesses called 911 and police pursued the Camry as it sped north into Los Angeles County, reaching speeds of up to 110 mph. A television news helicopter captured video of the car speeding on the left shoulder of the 105 Freeway and at one point grazing the concrete median.

Cunningham was arrested after he bailed out of the vehicle in the city of Cypress. McCrary and Darnell were arrested later in South Gate.

“Our entire community extends its deepest sympathies to the loved ones of Patricia McKay and to the entire country of New Zealand as we mourn her senseless death in the commission of a crime that should have never happened,” Orange County Dist. Atty. Todd Spitzer said in a statement announcing charges against the trio last week. "Lawlessness and violence will not be tolerated in our society."

Read more: A botched robbery. A tourist run over and killed. Violence erupts at upscale Newport Beach mall

New Zealand Prime Minister Christopher Luxon described Trish McKay’s death as “an absolute tragedy” and extended condolences to family members, whom he knows personally. Doug McKay is a prominent energy and business executive who served for several years as chair of the Bank of New Zealand and three years as the first chief executive of the Auckland Council created in 2010 for the region's "supercity."

In a statement, the McKay family said: "No words can express our sadness as we try to come to terms with the loss of our mother, wife, and friend Patricia. We ask for privacy at this time as we work through this as a family."

Times photographer Allen J. Schaben contributed to this report.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.