handcuffs on a table
Photo by Alexander Nguyen

Since mass killer Scott Dekraai’s attorneys filed a 500-plus page motion alleging outrageous governmental misconduct in his case and multiple others in January 2014, 16 defendants have either won new trials or received reduced punishments as a result.

The fallout from the Dekraai litigation also helped get one killer out of custody and another one off the hook on a life sentence. Two other convicted killers won new trials.

In February 2015, 37-year-old Leonel Vega accepted a plea deal after prosecutors agreed to have his first-degree murder conviction overturned because an ex-Santa Ana police detective got a jailhouse snitch to push Vega for information on his case, which is a Sixth Amendment violation because he had a lawyer at that time.

Vega pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and admitted a sentencing enhancement for using a gun in the March 2004 killing of rival 17-year-old gang member Giovani Onofre. Vega was sentenced to 15 years in prison in February 2015, and he could be out of prison within the next couple of years.

The informant in that case was Oscar Moriel, who is awaiting a plea deal in his own case of attempted murder. Moriel testified under immunity in the Dekraai hearings and also against Mexican Mafia Orange County boss Peter Ojeda in his federal trial.

Isaac John Palacios, 33, also benefited from the Dekraai litigation. He pleaded guilty in September 2014 to second-degree murder, and all other charges were dropped. He was given credit for 2,572 days in jail and was released.

Palacios spent about four years awaiting trial for two gang-related killings. He had been facing life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Much of the case against Palacios was based on information from snitches. In his plea deal, he admitted participating in the Sept. 2, 2006, gang-related murder of Randy Adame near Mater Dei High School. A murder charge related to the Jan. 19, 2005, gang-related killing of Alberto Gutierrez in Santa Ana was dropped.

Other notable cases affected by the Dekraai litigation involved murder charges against 40-year-old Henry Rodriguez and Eric Vasquez Ortiz.

Rodriguez was convicted in 2000 of first-degree murder and second-degree murder in the killing of eight-months-pregnant Janette Espeleta on July 17, 1998. In 2003, the conviction was reversed, and in 2006, Rodriguez went back on trial and was convicted again and sentenced to 40 years to life in prison.

Rodriguez’s attorney, James Crawford, won the right to a pending third trial and bail for his client, based on a failure to turn over evidence about an informant used in the case against him.

Ortiz, 28, won the right to a new trial based on allegations of governmental misconduct in the handling of a jailhouse informant who testified that the defendant confessed to the Oct. 23, 2006, killing of 51-year-old Emeterio Adame. He was convicted again in February and is awaiting sentencing.

Attempted murder and solicitation of murder charges were dropped against Joseph Martin Govey in September 2014, also due to allegations of the misuse of informants.

Bryant Phillip Islas caught a break on his attempted murder case because of issues with an informant in his case, as well. Islas pleaded guilty on March 17, 2015, to attempted murder and storism and admitted a sentencing enhancement for gang activity and was soon released from custody.

Islas, however, has struggled with heroin and methamphetamine addictions since his release last year and is facing parole violations, according to court records.

Here is a timeline of Dekraai’s case:

— Following a setback in a child support case, Dekraai, armed with three handguns and a bullet-proof vest, burst into Salon Meritage at 500 Pacific Coast Highway, bent on revenge against ex-wife Michelle Marie Fournier, who worked at the beauty shop. He first shot his 48-year-old ex-spouse, with whom he had argued that morning, then turned his gun on Christy Wilson, who had testified against him in the child support hearing. The shop’s owner, 62-year- old Randy Lee Fannin, was the next victim, and then Dekraai began shooting randomly, according to investigators.

Dekraai shot and killed his final victim, 64-year-old David Caouette, as he sat in his SUV outside the beauty salon because the gunman thought Caouette might be an off-duty or undercover police officer.

Dekraai was caught near the scene of the mass shooting and confessed his crimes to investigators.

— Dekraai was indicted on Jan. 17, 2012, by an Orange County grand jury on eight counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder. Hattie Stretz, now 79, survived the shooting.

— Goethals on Jan. 25, 2013, ordered prosecutors to turn over evidence on prolific informant Fernando Perez, a Mexican Mafia shot-caller who had relayed conversations he had with Dekraai about the mass killing. Perez’s evidence allowed prosecutors to have Dekraai’s cell wired, and they had planned to use insensitive remarks he made about the murders in his death penalty phase of the trial.

Prosecutors said they never intended to call Perez as a witness, so it was unnecessary to provide information on him to defense attorneys. Goethals disagreed.

— Jan. 31, 2014, Dekraai’s attorney filed a 505-page motion alleging widespread outrageous governmental misconduct in the use of jailhouse informants. Many of the cases stemmed from crackdowns by state and federal law enforcement on the Mexican Mafia and its use of violence in the jails to run its organized crime business.

— On March 18, 2014, Goethals began evidentiary hearings into the allegations.

— On April 22, 2014, prosecutors capitulated and stopped resisting a so- called Massiah motion allegation, which entailed a constitutional violation of Dekraai’s rights by using a government agent to solicit information from him when he was already represented by a lawyer. The District Attorney’s Office did not admit violating the defendant’s rights, but stopped fighting it.

— May 2, 2014, Dekraai pleaded guilty.

— Aug. 5, 2014, Goethals made his first ruling, stopping short of recusing the Orange County District Attorney from the case and dismissing the death penalty as a possible punishment. Goethals, however, accused sheriff’s deputies of lying or withholding information and punished the prosecution team by limiting what evidence they could use in the death penalty phase of the trial.

— In the fall of that same year, the so-called TRED records surfaced and prosecutors and defense attorneys agreed a new round of evidentiary hearings were warranted. The TRED records detail the movements of jailhouse informants. This was important in the Dekraai case because Sanders has long argued that it was no coincidence that Perez was placed in a cell next to Dekraai as authorities have claimed.

— On Feb. 5, 2015, a second round of evidentiary hearings began.

— On March 15, 2015, Goethals kicked Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas’ entire office from the Dekraai case.

— On Nov. 22, 2016, the Fourth District Court of Appeal affirmed Goethals’ ruling based on what the justices characterized as “systemic” abuses of jailhouse informants.

— On May 23, a third round of evidentiary hearings began because Goethals grew frustrated at the continuous discovery of new evidence brought in the case, culminating in Friday’s dismissal of the death penalty.

–City News Service

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.