An Orange County Superior Court judge is set to begin hearing evidence Tuesday on allegations that Orange County sheriff's officials and prosecutors broke the law in using jailhouse informants in the case against the man accused of the worst mass killing in Orange County history.
Attorneys for Scott Evans Dekraai, who is charged with killing eight people in the Salon Meritage in Seal Beach, are trying to persuade Orange County Superior Court Judge Thomas Goethals to remove the death penalty as an option for prosecutors against Dekraai.
They also want the Orange County District Attorney's Office removed from the case in favor of the Attorney General's Office, which is opposed to the move.
Assistant Public Defender Scott Sanders, who wrote a 500-plus page motion alleging government misconduct in the handling of jailhouse snitches tasked with gathering evidence for prosecutors, is expected to begin the evidentiary hearing Tuesday with testimony from longtime informant Fernando Perez.
Sanders argues that Perez was housed near Dekraai in a way to make it appear it was a coincidence and got the defendant to talk about the killings.
Other more explosive allegations include prosecutors not file a case against one suspect in a gang homicide to hide alleged misconduct.
Sanders, who also represents Daniel Patrick Wozniak, another defendant facing the death penalty for a dismemberment murder, has made similar allegations in that case and is seeking to have the ultimate punishment removed as an option in that case as well.
Sanders' motion also alleges misconduct in multiple cases involving state and federal crackdowns on Mexican Mafia-led violence in Orange County jails dubbed Operation Black Flag and Operation Smokin' Aces. Goethals on Friday removed the lead state prosecutor on those cases, Erik Petersen, from one of those cases for failing to hand over possible exculpatory evidence to defense attorneys in a jail-beating case.
In a rare move, the judge found that Petersen made a so-called Brady violation, named after a landmark case where the U.S. Supreme Court held that a defendant is entitled to get any and all evidence that may prove innocence.
Assistant District Attorney Dan Wagner, who is prosecuting Dekraai, has earlier said Sanders' motion was "filled with untruths."
Wagner and Petersen are expected to be called to testify in the hearing, which could take place at various times over the next couple of weeks.
--City News Service