Relatives of victims of Scott Dekraai, the worst mass killer in the county’s history, will protest Wednesday outside the offices of Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer, decrying his praise of two prosecutors who worked on the case.
The families of victims of Dekraai, who has been sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, were angered when video surfaced recently of a retirement party in December for Dekraai’s original prosecutors, Scott Simmons and Dan Wagner.
The video surfaced after Spitzer released a report critical of Wagner and Simmons, accusing them of negligence in the handling of Dekraai’s prosecution, which led to the so-called Jailhouse Snitch Scandal that upended Dekraai’s case.
Dekraai, who pleaded guilty to a killing spree targeting his ex-wife and friends at the Salon Meritage in Seal Beach, was on track for a death penalty prosecution until his attorney raised questions about the use of a snitch to create probable cause to wire Dekraai’s jail cell and get Dekraai on tape allegedly bragging about the murders.
As punishment for the snitch scandal, an Orange County Superior Court judge prohibited prosecutors from pursuing the death penalty, and because Dekraai pleaded guilty, he was sentenced to life in prison without parole.
Eight people died, and a ninth person survived the Oct. 12, 2011, attack.
Paul Wilson, who campaigned on behalf of Spitzer, has been critical of him for promoting Wagner and not holding him and his partner, Simmons, accountable until they left office.
Spitzer attended their retirement party, ladling praise on the two.
“I have nothing but respect and admiration for them,” Spitzer said at the party.
Spitzer said at the time “there was evidence in their case that they were responsible for that came to light that had nothing to do with them. And they were really unfairly blamed. And they took a lot of responsibility on their shoulders that was completely inappropriate.”
Spitzer told the gathering that he “read the transcripts of all these interviews, and I’ve read their transcripts, and it broke my heart when these discussions occurred about how all this came to light.”
Spitzer put the blame on Orange County sheriff’s deputies.
At the time, Spitzer had Patrick Dixon, special counsel to Spitzer and a prosecutor with 37 years of experience with the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, and Steve Danley, a consultant who previously was a chief human resources officer and performance auditor for Orange County, working on a report about the Dekraai prosecution.
They concluded that Wagner and Simmons were so fearful Dekraai would try a defense of insanity and avoid the death penalty that they improperly used a confidential informant to gain the incriminating comments.
Wilson, whose 47-year-old wife Christy Wilson, was one of Dekraai’s victims, said Spitzer ran on a platform critical of former District Attorney Tony Rackauckas for the “mishandling of the case.”
“Once elected, though, Spitzer quickly showed it was all an act so he could get elected,” Wilson said.
Wilson said he expects 15 to 25 protesters that includes family members of three of the victims.
Spitzer told City News Service he attended the retirement party because Wagner and Simmons were longtime work friends.
“I didn’t know what the report would say,” Spitzer said. “They were friends of mine. I worked with them for years. It would be disrespectful for me not to go to their party. There would be no reason not to go just because I had started an inquiry about Dekraai.”
Spitzer said his attendance at the party showed “the independence of the report. The fact that I was there and didn’t boycott it proves the point that the report was independent.”
Spitzer said at the retirement party Rackauckas’ office did not do enough to defend the prosecutors at the time.
“That was perspective then but I didn’t have the benefit in hindsight of the report or its findings,” Spitzer said. “Now we have a whole different picture.”
>> Want to read more stories like this? Get our Free Daily Newsletters Here!Follow us: