Scott Dekraai, a former tugboat captain who gunned down his ex-wife and seven other people at a Seal Beach beauty salon, was sentenced Friday to life in prison without the possibility of parole, ending a legal odyssey that sparked a sweeping probe into the misuse of informants in the Orange County jail system.

Dekraai, the worst mass killer in Orange County history, originally faced the death penalty, but Orange County Superior Court Judge Thomas Goethals removed capital punishment as an option in response to the prosecutorial misconduct allegations stemming from the snitch scandal.

Dekraai was given eight consecutive sentences of life in prison without the possibility of parole — one for each murder victim — plus, seven years to life for the attempted murder of another victim. Goethals tacked on 225 more years for the sentencing enhancements involving the use of a gun, making it a total of 232 years to life in prison on top of the eight consecutive terms of life without parole.

Goethals tried to reassure victims’ relatives in court that sparing Dekraai the death penalty was not a victory for the defendant. The judge told the courtroom that a maximum-security prison is the “definition of hard time.”

Goethals called Dekraai, 47, the “face of evil” in the community.

During an emotional sentencing hearing, relatives of Dekraai’s victims repeatedly lashed out and insulted the bespectacled defendant.

Paul Wilson, the husband of Christy Wilson, who was among the first to be gunned down in the Salon Meritage, told the court Dekraai had been to his home in the past for salon social gatherings, but none of that mattered when he went on his deadly rampage.

“He was intent on killing,” Wilson said.

Dekraai tried to apologize to Wilson, saying, “I’m sorry Paul,” but his words drew an immediate outcry from the courtroom audience, with his victims’ relatives telling him to shut up.

Doug Childers, one of the first people to rush into the salon following the shooting, told Dekraai his apologies “are worthless, like you.”

When he had a chance to speak, Dekraai again tried to apologize, saying he wished he could “turn back the hands of time.”

“I truly am sorry,” he said.

“I’ve been waiting a long time to apologize,” Dekraai said. “Hearing what I heard today is so dynamic.”

Dekraai also apologized to his son “as a father and as a role model. … I was wrong for what I did. … I’m totally to blame for my total loss of self-control.”

Dekraai pleaded guilty May 2, 2014, knowing at the time he faced a possible death sentence. His plea came amid evidentiary hearings into allegations that his constitutional rights were violated by a jailhouse informant who heard him make damning comments about the murder spree.

At issue was whether the comments were “overheard” by the informant or if the inmate worked Dekraai to get the information, which led to prosecutors having the defendant’s cell wired in hopes of obtaining more damaging comments to be used in the penalty phase of trial. Informants are not allowed to question defendants who are represented by an attorney, as Dekraai was at the time. They are free, however, to pass along overheard comments to their handlers.

Dekraai’s attorneys, led by Assistant Public Defender Scott Sanders, unearthed a trove of cases involving jailhouse informants who they claimed were being used in ways that violated the constitutional rights of many inmates.

The allegations led Goethals to boot District Attorney Tony Rackauckas’ office off the case. The state Attorney General’s Office then took it over.

The Fourth District Court of Appeal upheld Goethals’ ruling, concluding there was institutionalized corruption in the way jailhouse snitches were used and that Dekraai could never be certain he would receive a fair hearing with Rackauckas’ office prosecuting him.

After numerous ensuing problems and delays in turning over evidence to defense attorneys, Goethals ordered another round of evidentiary hearings and then dropped his bombshell ruling eliminating the death penalty as an option for Dekraai.

Before the hearings, Goethals called such a move “unthinkable,” but in the end, he said he felt Dekraai could never get a fair trial in the penalty phase, despite a new team of prosecutors, and laid the blame at the feet of Dekraai’s jailers.

Speaking to the victims and their loved ones Friday, the judge said, “The criminal justice system here in Orange County has largely failed you. You deserve better.”

Goethals disputed the contention of some that Dekraai “won” something with the judge’s ruling, he said.

“At the end of the day, the only winner here is the rule of law,” Goethals said.

The Attorney General’s Office said it would not appeal Goethals’ ruling.

The District Attorney’s Office released a statement saying it continues to disagree with the judge’s decision, saying Dekraai deserves the ultimate penalty.

“The OCDA fought for the death penalty because it is hard to fathom how anyone who has heard Dekraai’s chilling recorded confession immediately following his arrest would think that this evil person should get anything less than the death penalty,” according to the District Attorney’s Office.

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. Sanders estimates 16 defendants have either won new trials or received reduced punishments as a result.

Michelle Van Der Linden, a spokeswoman for Rackauckas, said only four cases were affected.

Dekraai’s ex-wife, 48-year-old Michelle Marie Fournier, was the first victim the then-42-year-old gunman killed on Oct. 12, 2011, at the Salon Meritage at 500 Pacific Coast Highway, where she worked. The couple had been locked in a bitter child custody dispute.

Also killed in the salon were the shop’s owner, 62-year-old Randy Lee Fannin, Laura Webb Elody, 46, Wilson, 47, Victoria Ann Buzzo, 54, Lucia Berniece Kondas, 65, and Michele Dashbach Fast, 47. After leaving the salon, Dekraai gunned down his last victim, 64-year-old David Caouette, as the victim sat in his Range Rover, parked next to the gunman’s vehicle.

Hattie Stretz, now 79, survived the bloodbath.

–City News Service

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