Prosecutorial Misconduct Jeopardizes Murder Case

law / Scott Dekraai is flanked by his public defenders during arraignment at the Central Justice Center in Santa Ana. Dekraai is charged with the shooting deaths of eight people in a Seal Beach salon. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty. / Don Bartletti / TNS

Scott Dekraai is flanked by his public defenders during arraignment at the Central Justice Center in Santa Ana. Dekraai is charged with the shooting deaths of eight people in a Seal Beach salon. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty. / Don Bartletti / TNS

By Laura Garcia

The Orange County District Attorney’s Office and the Orange County Sheriff’s Department are accused of prosecutorial misconduct in the effort to obtain a death penalty conviction in the case of Scott Dekraai.

Dekraai killed eight people in a shooting rampage, including his wife, in 2011 at a Seal Beach hair salon. Despite several witnesses and Dekraai pleading guilty, his case remains in court.

Scott Sanders, Dekraai’s attorney, accused the Sheriff’s Department and the DA’s office of prosecutorial misconduct. During a motion hearing in March 2014, Sanders spoke to the court about an unconstitutional jailhouse informant program affecting his defendant’s case.

Sander’s accusation resulted in a decision from O.C. Superior Court Judge Thomas Goethals to recuse all 250 Orange County district attorneys from Dekraai’s case, according to Wileen Ferris, a staffer for Goethals.

The case has since been transferred to California Attorney General Kamala Harris, who appealed her assignment.

“The recusal order does nothing to address or prevent future concealments by the OCSD, no matter what prosecution agency is assigned,” Harris wrote in her appeal.

The evidence gathered from informants was withheld from Dekraai’s defense, wrote Sanders in his motion to dismiss the death penalty.

“In our system of justice, in theory anyway, a defendant is supposed to defend themselves and if the prosecution is withholding information that might be helpful to the defendant, that should be turned over,” Santa Ana College Criminal Justice Professor George Wright said.
Dekraai’s case is currently in the death penalty phase. If the court rules against the death penalty, he could face eight consecutive life sentences without the possibility of parole.

The OCDA also appealed Goethals’ decision, arguing that a recusal is not a proper call for the circumstances in the case.

The DA’s office has requested to disqualify Goethals five times, three times in 2011 and twice in 2013.

A 505-page motion written by Sanders accused officials of lying under oath and prosecutors of violating Dekraai’s rights by placing an informant in a neighboring cell with the intention of receiving a confession.
He writes about a computer file known as TRED, which is a record of jailhouse informants and how they’re placed in certain cells to illegally extract information from inmates.

“When you deal with any kind of an informant, you have to be extremely careful because often their information is not all that accurate,” Wright said.

The informant, former Mexican Mafia leader Fernando Perez, helped prosecutors by taping Dekraai’s confession.

A trial court found that the OCDA had no involvement in the jailhouse informant controversy since they had no knowledge of the TRED records. The OCDA maintains that Perez and Dekraai were placed together by coincidence.

Dekraai’s case is not unique. According to a study by The California Innocence Project, a law school clinic program, prosecutorial misconduct is a factor in 36 to 42 percent of convictions.

The revealed information has tainted Orange County’s legal system, pushing Gov. Jerry Brown to sign a new law that punishes prosecutors who withhold evidence from a case.

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