An Orange County Superior Court judge last week ruled he would release most of the grand jury transcripts that led to an indictment of a man charged with killing eight people in and near a Seal Beach beauty salon, the worst mass killing in Orange County history.
Superior Court Judge Thomas Goethals, however, also decided he would keep 29 pages of the transcripts sealed as well as some other legal filings in the case against 42-year-old Scott Evans Dekraai, who is charged with eight murder counts and faces the death penalty.
Deputy Public Defenders Scott Sanders and Martin Schwarz asked the judge to seal all of the grand jury transcripts as well as exhibits in the case. Attorney Ashley Kissinger, representing the Orange County Register, argued for release of all of the grand jury material. Goethals delayed the release of 100 pages of the grand jury transcripts until May 3 to give attorneys time to appeal.
Much of the debate in this morning's hearing centered around whether release of the information would taint the county's jury pool as well as the public's right to know how prosecutors got an indictment against Dekraai. Kissinger argued that release of grand jury materials did not affect jury selection in the securities fraud trial related to former Enron executives Ken Lay and Jeffrey Skilling. She noted that case drew international attention.
Goethals noted with a smile that he knows the prosecutor in that case, but, ``I still don't know what that case was about. But people know what this case is about.''
The judge said he had to balance between the right of the defendant and prosecutors to a fair trial versus the public's right to know if the indictment was proper. Goethals agreed with Kissinger that release of the grand jury material now would help reduce the chance of prejudicing jurors since news reporting about it would likely be largely forgotten by the time the case goes to trial Besides, most of the information in the grand jury transcripts he is set to release contains details already reported by the media in Southern California, Goethals said.
Schwarz argued that there is no 1st Amendment right to access the grand jury information and that release of the details would provoke a ``visceral reaction from the reader,'' and ultimately prejudice the jury pool. Goethals noted the county has a large pool of jurors with a population of more than three million people. It's not clear what exhibits the defense has filed that Goethals wants to keep private, but he said they contain information that has not been reported by the media.
Dekraai was ordered to return to court for a pretrial hearing Aug. 10. His jury trial is still tentatively scheduled for Oct. 15. Assistant District Attorney Dan Wagner said after the hearing that his office had no major objections to release of the grand jury proceedings.
``In general, we're in favor of transparency,'' Wagner said. ``We're satisfied that we're moving toward trial, and we're looking forward to getting the evidence presented to the grand jury before a trial jury.'' Dekraai is charged with eight counts of murder, including the special circumstance allegation of multiple murders, and one count of attempted murder involving a woman who was shot at Salon Meritage, but survived.
Dekraai is accused of walking into the salon on Oct. 12 and gunning down his 48-year-old ex-wife before opening fire on others inside the business, including Wilson, 47. Also killed were the salon's owner, Randy Lee Fannin, 62; Victoria Ann Buzzo, 54; Lucia Bernice Kondas, 65; Laura Lee Elody, 46; Michele Daschbach Fast, 47; and David Caouette, 64. Hattie Stretz, 73, survived her injuries.
- City News Service