An Orange County Superior Court judge is expected Friday to decide whether Scott Dekraai, the worst mass killer in the county’s history, should continue to face the death penalty or be automatically sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
The ruling from Orange County Superior Court Judge Thomas Goethals, who has already recused the Orange County District Attorney’s Office from the case, is the result of a third round of evidentiary hearings stemming from widespread abuses of a jailhouse informant program.
In prior rulings, Goethals has punished prosecutors for the violations regarding the use of informants and the failure to exchange evidence with defense attorneys by limiting what evidence they can use in the penalty phase of the trial. Dekraai has pleaded guilty to eight murders and one attempted murder so now he only waits to learn what his punishment will be.
If there is a penalty phase, prosecutors will be limited to telling jurors about the crime and what Dekraai told investigators before he was jailed for the beauty salon massacre. Prosecutors may also focus on Dekraai’s character and the impact the crimes had on the victims.
Goethals heard arguments last week from a prosecutor from the Attorney General’s Office, which took over the case when the District Attorney was recused, as well as Dekraai’s attorneys.
Dekraai’s attorney, Assistant Public Defender Scott Sanders, argued that his client cannot trust the county to turn over all favorable evidence, so he can never be sure he’ll ever get a fair hearing.
Deputy Attorney General Michael Murphy, however, said that none of the corruption involving the use of confidential informants in the jail precludes Dekraai from getting a fair hearing in the penalty phase of his trial.
Deputy Public Defender Sara Ross asked Goethals to impose “creative sanctions” on the prosecution team when Goethals raised the issue of whether he has the constitutional authority to dismiss the death penalty as a punishment for Dekraai.
The allegations of misconduct in the Dekraai case date back to January 2014 when his attorneys filed a 500-plus-page motion alleging widespread misconduct in the use of jailhouse informants to obtain information to help investigators
Sanders argued that the government violated his client’s constitutional rights by having informant Fernando Perez put in a cell next to Dekraai to get information from the defendant when he was already represented by an attorney, which is illegal.
Goethals found that the placement of Perez was a coincidence based on a nurse’s recommendation. Sanders continued to argue last week that it was a conspiracy to violate his client’s rights.
Perez’s notes to his handlers led prosecutors to get Dekraai’s cell wired, and he made what many sources have characterized as insensitive and callous comments about the massacre at the Seal Beach beauty salon.
Prosecutors wanted to use the comments in the death penalty phase of the trial, but Goethals has forbidden it.
Bethany Webb, the sister of Dekraai victim Laura Webb Elody, said she hopes Goethals dismisses the death penalty.
She said 90 to 95 percent of the victims’ families want the attorney general to stop pursuing the ultimate punishment for Dekraai.
“We don’t want to come here anymore,” Webb said. “I’m begging the judge to realize how broken this is and to set us free.”
—City News Service
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