Photo by John Schreiber.
Photo by John Schreiber.

Updated at 11:45 a.m., March 20, 2015

The state Attorney General’s Office announced it is appealing a judge’s decision removing the Orange County District Attorney’s Office from the case of Scott Dekraai, who carried out the worst mass killing in the county’s history.

Last week’s ruling by Orange County Superior Court Judge Thomas Goethals had been stayed until today to allow for a possible appeal.

Dekraai, 45, pleaded guilty last year to killing his ex-wife and seven other people in and around a Seal Beach beauty salon on Oct. 12, 2011. His attorney, Scott Sanders, has been laboring to have the death penalty removed as an option for his client, and to have the District Attorney’s Office removed from the case, arguing misuse of jailhouse informants and accusing investigators of lying about their handling of the case.

Goethals agreed last week to remove the District Attorney’s Office from the case, putting the state Attorney General’s Office in charge, but declined to remove the death penalty as an option.

The Attorney General’s Office issued a statement saying the ruling “lacks legal justification and must be appealed.”

“The attorney general believes the findings  of the court regarding the discovery violations in this case are serious and demand further investigation,” according to the Attorney General’s Office. “But, as the court found, ‘there is no direct evidence that the district attorney actively participated in the concealment of this information from the defense and the court.”‘

The judge accused some of the investigators of lying in their testimony during months of hearings on the issue.

“As the chief law enforcement officer in this county, the district attorney is responsible for the actions of his agents,” Goethals wrote in his ruling. “In this case the evidence demonstrates that some of those agents have habitually ignored the law over an extended period of time to the detriment of this defendant … The district attorney has a conflict of interest in this case, which has actually deprived this defendant of due process in the past.”

The judge went on to say that Dekraai cannot get a fair penalty phase trial as a result, if the district attorney is handling it.

“This court does not order the district attorney’s recusal as a punitive measure,” Goethals said, but to ensure Dekraai’s right to a fair judicial process.

Goethals ruled last August that prosecutors cannot use damning statements Dekraai made to a jailhouse informant during the penalty phase.

At issue was whether investigators lied about how government informant Fernando Perez was placed in a cell next to Dekraai, where Perez befriended him and heard him “brag” about the Oct. 12, 2011, massacre in and around Salon Meritage in Seal Beach.

Last August, Goethals ruled that serious misconduct occurred in the handling of jailhouse informants in the case, but he chalked it up more to negligence than a conspiracy.

After that ruling, however, Sanders became aware of jail records — known as TRED records — that he argued contradicts evidence in the first round of evidentiary hearings that indicated a nurse put Perez next to Dekraai’s cell, not sheriff’s officials seeking to gather more damning evidence against the defendant. That could have been a violation of his constitutional rights since he was represented by an attorney.

—City News Service

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