Crime - Sacto 911

Trial starts for third man in shooting at Natomas birthday party

Orlando Rhinehart sits in court prior to the start of opening arguments Wednesday, June 22, 2016, at the Sacramento County Courthouse in the trial of three defendants accused of murder in the May 2014 shooting at a birthday party at Peregrine Park in Natomas that killed a man and wounded six other people.
Orlando Rhinehart sits in court prior to the start of opening arguments Wednesday, June 22, 2016, at the Sacramento County Courthouse in the trial of three defendants accused of murder in the May 2014 shooting at a birthday party at Peregrine Park in Natomas that killed a man and wounded six other people. lsterling@sacbee.com

Orlando Rhinehart shot hoops with his young son minutes before the gunfire erupted that May afternoon at Natomas’ Peregrine Park, his attorney told jurors Monday in Sacramento Superior Court. Soon, he said, Rhinehart would be thrust into the center of a murder case on the strength of a phone call and a mother’s misguided fib.

“Mr. Rhinehart was playing basketball with his 8-year-old son,” defense attorney Jeffrey Fletcher said. “They were at the park. That’s his neighborhood park. That’s their park.”

Jurors heard opening statements Monday in the murder trial of Orlando Rhinehart, the third of three men facing murder and attempted murder charges in the May 10, 2014, shooting at an infant’s birthday party at the Natomas park that wounded six people, including a 7-year-old girl, and left a 29-year-old man dead. The birthday child escaped injury.

Prosecuting Sacramento County Deputy District Attorney Eric Kindall framed the deadly shooting as a revenge killing against rivals when opening his case last week against co-defendants Avery Hill and Kelly Thomas. He said Rhinehart, 30, knew the two men and took a phone call from Hill at the park less than an hour before the shooting.

Four members of New Money, the high-rolling crew who attorneys say blamed Hill and Thomas for the 2013 death of New Money member Lawrence “M3” Smith, who was gunned down in his Pocket Road apartment, were shot at the birthday party for Smith’s 1-year-old child.

Jacoby James, 29, was killed with a gunshot to the back.

Prosecutor Kindall alleged the park shooting was payback for a February 2014 attack targeting Thomas at his Arden Arcade-area apartment complex that Thomas believed was engineered by the New Money crew in retaliation for the 2013 shooting.

But Fletcher said Rhinehart was a man all but unknown to Hill and Thomas as well as to the New Money crew. He said years of investigation into the shootings have failed to tie Rhinehart to either group.

“M3 was a part of New Money, but the one thing you’re not going to hear is ‘Orlando Rhinehart.’ You’re not going to hear anybody say they knew Orlando Rhinehart,” Fletcher said. “He’s completely out of the picture.”

Still, Rhinehart knew enough of Hill to send his son to the car when they saw Hill approach the park, Fletcher said. Guns blazed and nearby home security cameras soon showed Rhinehart’s black Kia sedan speeding down San Juan Road.

“He’s not escaping a crime he committed,” Fletcher said. “He’s getting out of danger.”

Rhinehart and his son eluded danger, but Fletcher said it was a call by Rhinehart’s mother to her insurance company that brought Sacramento police to their doorstep and led to his arrest in August 2014 on suspicion of murder and attempted murder.

The Rhineharts’ black Kia sat riddled with gunfire outside their home the night of the park shooting. Tires flattened, the rear window blown out, four bullet holes in the trunk lid. Fletcher suggested the damage was done later by gunmen who noticed the car at the park.

Orlando Rhinehart had no driver’s license, but his mother allowed him to use the car.

His mother, Barbara Rhinehart, 67, concocted a plan, Fletcher said. She would call in a false claim to her carrier and say she drove her son and grandson to Peregrine Park, where they were caught in the gunfire.

Police later impounded the car and questioned Orlando Rhinehart’s son at his school. Barbara Rhinehart was not behind the wheel, his father was, the boy said. The car wasn’t hit at the park, he said, but later that night.

“She made the unfortunate mistake of filing a claim because her son didn’t have a license,” Fletcher said.

Darrell Smith: 916-321-1040, @dvaughnsmith

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