Judge rules out death penalty for Scott Dekraai in Seal Beach mass murder case
The worst mass murderer in Orange County history will escape execution, a superior court judge ruled Friday, Aug. 18.
Judge Thomas Goethals took the death penalty off the table for confessed killer Scott Evans Dekraai, 47, because he concluded law enforcement would not ensure the defendant a fair penalty trial. Dekraai pleaded guilty to killing eight people and wounding another in an October 2011 shooting spree at a Seal Beach salon.
“This court finds the prosecution team is unable or unwilling” to provide the evidence to ensure Dekraai would get a fair trial, Goethals said.
The ruling comes after more than four years of delay in the case as Goethals investigated accusations that prosecutors and sheriff’s deputies systemically withheld evidence and used a network of jailhouse informants to illegally get confessions from targeted inmates.
The next step is for Goethals
to sentence Dekraai. The judge has signaled that the sentence would be eight consecutive terms of life without parole for the deaths of Victoria Buzzo, 54; David Caouette, 64; Randy Lee Fannin, 62; Michele Daschbach Fast, 47; Michelle Marie Fournier, 48; Lucia Bernice Kondas, 65; Laura Webb Elody, 46; and Christy Lynn Wilson, 47. Hattie Stretz was also shot but survived.
The shooting spree stemmed from a custody battle between Dekraai and his ex-wife, Fournier.
The case cast a national spotlight on Orange County’s broken justice system. Separate investigations by the California Attorney General’s Office and the U.S. Department of Justice’s civil rights division are underway.
Goethals ignited a legal firestorm in March 2015 when he took the penalty phase away from the Orange County District Attorney’s Office because of misconduct that he said threatened to deprive Dekraai of his civil rights. The state attorney general’s office took over the case.
Appellate justices later upheld Goethals decision, calling the misuse of jailhouse informants and withholding of evidence by prosecutors and sheriff’s deputies “real” and “systemic.” But the 2016-17 Orange County Grand Jury concluded the informant scandal was a “myth” and there was no sanctioned informant program run by sheriff’s deputies and benefiting prosecutors.
The grand jury report, however, did not dissuade Goethals that jailhouse informants were regularly misused on inmates who had attorneys and were formally charged.
This post will be updated with additional details.
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