A jury won’t decide the fate of the man accused of killing eight people at Salon Meritage until at least spring of next year, a judge determined today.
Orange county Superior Court Judge Thomas M. Goethals set a March 25 trial date, but the date remains contested as defense attorneys for Scott Evans Dekraai have asked for as much as three years to prepare for the death penalty trial. Additionally, the defense intends to fight to have the trial moved out of Orange County. Earlier this year, the court set an Oct. 15 trial date, but Goethals admitted today that the date was unrealistic.
“This case isn’t going to trial until its time has come, but I would be surprised if its time doesn’t come in the next calendar year,” said Goethals.
For the first time, about 40 victims’ family members sat in a courtroom with an unobstructed view of the Dekraai, the man accused of killing six women and two men in a two-minute shooting rampage Oct. 12 in the county’s deadliest mass murder.
Limping and dressed in a pumpkin colored jail jumpsuit and shackled, Dekraai said little, avoided eye contact with the victims’ families and briefly rested his head upon the table as attorneys for both sides debated the appropriate trial date.
“We are ready to try it,” said prosecutor Daniel Wagner.
However, with more than 10,500 pages of evidence, a staff of attorneys could work around the clock and still not be ready for trial in six months, argued Deputy Public Defender Scott Sanders.
“I would consider this the most complex case I have ever come across,” said Sanders. Sanders said much of the defense’s preparation would focus on the penalty phase of the trial, a hint that the real battle will not be about guilt or innocence. Rather, it will focus on weather Dekraai should be put to death if convicted.
Family members of the victims were prepared for the trial to be pushed back, but the possibility of it dragging on for years was staggering, said Paul Wilson, who’s wife Christy Wilson died in the massacre.
“For years and years? To see it go that long is absurd,” said Wilson. “The tax payers and I am paying for the defense of the guy who killed my wife.”
At the same time, Wilson said he was pleased to see the judge warn both sides that he is serious about the need for swift justice.
“This case will go to trial when it’s ready, but I am going to stay on both sides a lot to make sure we are all ready to get this to trial next year, and I am not talking about Christmas time,” said Goethals.
To open the proceedings Friday morning, Goethals told the attorneys he was surprised that now motions have been filed in the case recently.
“I was just a little surprised that I heard deafening silence,” he said.
MORE DETAILS TO COME SOON
Dekraai is accused of walking into the Salon Meritage on Oct. 12 and shooting and killing his 48-year-old ex-wife Michelle Fournier before opening fire on others inside the business. Also killed in the shooting were the salon's owner, Randy Lee Fannin, 62; Victoria Ann Buzzo, 54; Lucia Bernice Kondas, 65; Laura Lee Elody, 46; Christy Lynn Wilson, 47; Michele Daschbach Fast, 47, and David Caouette, 64. Hattie Stretz, 73, was also shot, but survived. Dekraai remains jailed without bail.