An Orange County Superior Court judge today ordered prosecutors to turn over evidence they have to defense attorneys on the background of a jail house snitch who chatted with a defendant charged with killing eight people in a Seal Beach beauty salon, the worst mass killing in Orange County history.
Prosecutors believe they have enough evidence to prove Scott Evans Dekraai's guilt, so the evidence would be more valuable to them in the death penalty phase of the trial.
Dekraai's attorney's, Deputy Public Defenders Scott Sanders and Scott VanCamp, want information on the informant's background so they can prepare what's referred to as a Masiah motion, which would seek to prevent jurors from hearing what Dekraai told the inmate in a next-door cell. To be successful, the defense attorneys would have to show the informant was working for the prosecution for some type of benefit like a lesser sentence and was also working to elicit damning statements from the defendant.
Assistant District Attorney Dan Wagner said after the hearing that using an informant like that is prohibited because it's like questioning a defendant without an attorney present.
Wagner argued in court today that prosecutors have already stipulated to defense attorneys that the informant was an agent for the government, but that prosecutors do not intend to put the snitch on the stand and that Dekraai volunteered "inflammatory statements that were made without any prompting at all."
Dekraai is heard on the five days of tapes exclaiming at times "woe is me, I've ruined my life," Wagner said in court. The taping was done in October 2011, about a week following the Oct. 12, 2011, shooting at the Salon Meritage that claimed eight victims and nearly led to the death of a ninth.
Goethals ordered prosecutors to turn over the background information on the informant based on his interpretation of a similar case that led to a reversal of a conviction and a new trial.
"My primary goal is that both sides receive a fair and speedy trial," Goethals said, adding his second priority is avoiding two trials. "To deny this motion would inevitably lead to appellate review, which will delay this case.''
Goethals emphasized that his ruling today should not offer a hint on how he would rule on a motion to suppress the jail house conversations.
If there is a problem turning over the evidence the defense seeks then both sides will return to court Feb. 8 for a hearing on the issue. A March 25 trial date has been set, but the actual trial is not expected to begin then because Sanders said the defense will not be ready.
"I am very hopeful we're going to try this case this year," Goethals said.
Paul Wilson, the husband of victim Christy Wilson, said after the hearing that the delays are, "Disgusting. This case is pretty black and white."
Wagner would not say why prosecutors objected to telling the defense about the informant.
Dekraai "made very specific statements about the case that we want the
jury to hear," Wagner told reporters after the hearing.
The statements could come in handy if defense attorneys go for an insanity defense because it would show a lack of remorse and a sane state of
mind, Wagner said.
The informant told sheriff's deputies that Dekraai was talking about the case, prompting the deputies to contact prosecutors, who bugged Dekraai's cell, Wagner said.
Sanders indicated during today's hearing that the informant had been in custody since April 2009 and that his case was continued about 20 times.
The information also testified in a federal case, Sanders said.
Either it was a stroke of luck that the informant ended up next to Dekraai's cell, or authorities did it on purpose, Sanders said.
Dekraai, who faces a possible death penalty, 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, Michelle Fournier, before opening fire on others inside the business.
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; Christy Wilson, 47; and David Caouette, 64. Hattie Stretz, 73, survived her injuries.
--City News Service