Scott Dekraai, the worst mass killer in Orange County’s history, is scheduled to be sentenced Friday to life in prison without the possibility of parole for gunning down eight people at a Seal Beach beauty salon where his ex-wife worked.
The case has rocked the criminal system in Orange County amid allegations that Dekraai was the victim of abuse of the jailhouse informant program, but Friday morning’s sentencing could turn out to be the last word on the case.
The widower of one of Dekraai’s eight murder victims said the Attorney General’s Office told him there will be no appeal of a ruling eliminating the death penalty as a punishment for the defendant.
“They’re not going to appeal — they called me,” said Paul Wilson, husband of Christy Wilson, who was among the first to be gunned down in the Salon Meritage massacre in Seal Beach nearly six years ago.
“This should be it,” Wilson said. “I feel that it’s finally some closure, a little bit of closure … I can walk out of there knowing I won’t have to come back to see this guy. He will go away and I won’t have to see his face in the newspaper. He’s just going to go off into loneliness and be gone and I’ll try really hard to put it all behind me, knowing I don’t have to relive it in court. It’s a relief.”
Dekraai, 47, is expected to be sentenced to eight consecutive terms of life in prison without the possibility of parole. He is likely to get more years tacked on for an attempted murder charge and a gun-use sentencing enhancement.
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 he 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 Orange County Superior Court Judge Thomas 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 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.
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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