By PAUL ANDERSON
City News Service
A jailhouse informant who collected evidence from behind bars against a man accused of the worst mass killing in Orange County history testified today that a fellow gang member once told him in jail about wanting to have a prosecutor killed.
Testifying in a hearing over prosecutors' use of jailhouse informants, the informant known as "Inmate F" said fellow inmate Leonel Vega, also known as "Downer," was "one of my closest allies at the time" roughly three years ago when Vega talked about wanting to have Deputy District Attorney Erik Petersen killed.
Inmate F [Patch is declining to identify him by name] said Vega told him that Petersen had "done (Vega) dirty at trial."
When Vega told Inmate F about wanting to put a hit out on Petersen, "I contacted the authorities," said Inmate F, who was working as an informant at the time and was in an isolation area of the jail with Vega.
The informant was testifying in an evidentiary hearing to determine if the Orange County District Attorney's Office should be removed from the prosecution of Scott Evans Dekraai, who is accused of killing eight people at the Salon Meritage in Seal Beach.
Defense attorneys are also trying to convince Orange County Superior Court Judge Thomas Goethals to remove the death penalty as an option for Dekraai. They claim prosecutors collected evidence in a way they allege violated the constitutional rights of the defendant -- through the use of jailhouse snitches.
Assistant Public Defender Scott Sanders has been trying to establish in questioning of Inmate F that the informant was placed in "isolation" with other inmates even though he did nothing to merit it just so he could illegally gather evidence against other defendants.
The informant testified that he did nothing illegal in talking to Vega while the two were in isolation, saying he did not pump him for information and noting, "Downer had a big mouth, and I had my own contacts."
In a 500-plus page motion, defense attorneys allege governmental misconduct in cases against Dekraai, accused murderer Daniel Patrick Wozniak and multiple defendants involved in state and federal crackdowns on jail violence and the Mexican Mafia.
Petersen, who is a focal point of defense attorneys in the motion, was removed Friday by Goethals from the prosecution of several defendants in a jailhouse beating case.
Inmate F testified Tuesday that he became a jailhouse informant after he had an epiphany while in "the hole" one day.
Sanders has repeatedly asked the informant if he did it to get a break on his pending sentence for convictions on gun and drugs possession with gang enhancements.
Initially, Inmate F steadfastly denied seeking any leniency, insisting he was doing "the right thing," but eventually he acknowledged "hoping" his help might help him get out of custody earlier.
Sanders has gotten Inmate F to admit he perjured himself during his trial, but the informant has tried to stress that he has "changed" while in custody.
The one-time Mexican Mafia shot-caller, who has been granted immunity during his testimony, is in federal custody under witness protection. He has acknowledged helping to assemble lists of targets for assaults and killings in jail, called "hard candy" lists, but he denied ever attacking anyone with a weapon.
Inmate F also admitted he has assaulted other inmates, including "stomping" on someone's head as they were on the ground during a prison riot. He also "rushed" another man who was dating the mother of his children, he testified.
Sanders questioned the informant about why he kept befriending Wozniak in jail despite Inmate F's previously admitted revulsion about the accused killer's crimes, which included dismembering one of his victims.
Inmate F testified that it was a jailhouse custom for inmates who were out of their cells to "make the rounds" and ask other defendants if they needed amenities such as hot water. Wozniak was in the same wing with him for a time, the informant testified.
Wozniak was "a very vulnerable" inmate who would volunteer information to Inmate F, he testified, recalling how Wozniak would be upset after getting off the phone with his fiancee and confide in him.
Sanders asked Inmate F why he would keep talking to someone he hated.
"I didn't say I hated the dude, but for what he did he was a creepo," Inmate F testified. "I treated everybody fair."
"Because you wanted to see if you could get more helpful information?" Sanders asked.
"Like I said, if he talked to me, he talked to me," Inmate F said, adding he had three conversations with Wozniak.
"I'd ask him what's wrong?" when the upset Wozniak got off the phone with his fiancee, the informant testified. "I'd ask him, 'Hey, you're down and out, crying or whatever, you need anything?' And he'd start talking."