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

The incident reportedly occurred nearby the Barnes & Noble at Fashion Island. Customers were allowed to leave the taped-off parking lot.
Police investigate outside the Fashion Island shopping mall after Tuesday's fatal robbery. (Susan Hoffman)

Orange County prosecutors charged a third-strike offender and two other men with murder on accusations of running a car over a 68-year-old New Zealand woman and dragging her nearly 65 feet during a robbery at Newport Beach’s Fashion Island.

Prosecutors charged third-striker 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. (Authorities initially gave Darnell's middle name as Edward.) They could be sentenced to death if they are convicted of killing Patricia McKay in the commission of a robbery, with a felony enhancement of causing the death of a person over the age of 65. The trio were captured after leading police on a high-speed chase into L.A. County.

The incidents Tuesday raised questions about why McCrary hadn't served prison time for his previous felony convictions.

California has had a moratorium on carrying out the death penalty since 2019 and has not executed anyone since 2006.

McCrary also faces charges of felony attempted second-degree robbery and evading while driving recklessly. He was previously convicted of the felonies of residential burglary in 2018, criminal threats in 2020, and robbery in 2023, all in L.A. County. Records show he was also convicted of being a narcotics addict in possession of a firearm in 2023.

In addition to the murder charge, 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: Zip ties, guns and a rope: New details emerge on Newport Beach home invasion

Patricia McKay and husband Douglas McKay, a well-known Auckland businessman and leader, were waiting for a ride after shopping at Newport Beach’s Fashion Island on Tuesday 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 Patricia McKay to the ground as she held several shopping bags, and then allegedly dragged her into the street in front of the Camry while grabbing the bags.

Douglas McKay jumped in front of the vehicle in an effort to stop it from running over his wife, but McCrary allegedly 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.

After the incident, police pursued the Camry as it sped north, 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. McCray and Darnell were arrested later in South Gate. All three defendants were being held without bail Friday.

“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 the charges. "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 Patricia McKay’s death as “an absolute tragedy,” and extended condolences to family members, whom he knows personally. Douglas 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."

In 2023, McCrary pleaded no contest to charges of robbery and being a narcotics addict in possession of a firearm. He was sentenced to two years of probation with three years in state prison suspended.

Asked to explain the lack of prison time for McCrary, the L.A. County District Attorney's Office said in a statement: "The case against [him] had significant problems with proof. As a result of these issues, the management team at the Airport Court authorized a plea offer that allowed Mr. [McCrary] to be placed on probation with a suspended state prison sentence."

Still, the District Attorney's Office called the latest crimes that McCrary is accused of "reprehensible."

In announcing this week's charges, Spitzer, the Orange County prosecutor, put some of the blame on Gov. Gavin Newsom and other California Democrats.

“Our shopping centers and malls have become hunting grounds for criminals who are stalking innocent shoppers to rob them blind," he said in a statement, "because our Governor and our Legislature refuse to hold anyone accountable for their actions."

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.