Judge rules Scott Dekraai, OC's worst mass killer, will not face death penalty

Scott Dekraai, who pleaded guilty to eight murders and one attempted murder for a 2011 massacre at a Seal Beach beauty salon that made him the worst mass killer in Orange County's history, will not face the death penalty for his crimes, a judge ruled Friday.

The ruling by Orange County Superior Court Judge Thomas Goethals, who already had recused the Orange County District Attorney's Office from the case, is the result of a third round of evidentiary hearings stemming from widespread abuses of a jailhouse informant program.

Dekraai will be formally sentenced on Sept. 22 to eight consecutive life terms without the possibility of parole.

"Many (victims' family members) have asked this court to do what little it can to mitigate their suffering by imposing the eight consecutive sentences of life without parole that would end this case now and ensure that this defendant dies a forgotten man in some obscure maximum-security prison,'' Goethals said.

In explaining his decision, the judge said: "The court finds that the prosecution team is unable and/or unwilling to comply fully with these lawful (discovery) orders that remain in full force and effect. As a result, this court now exercises discretion to strike the death penalty as a potential punishment for this defendant, despite the horrific nature of his crimes.''

Deputy Attorney General Michael Murphy said his office will review the ruling before deciding whether to appeal.

Paul Caouette, whose father was the last victim shot by Dekraai, said outside the courtroom that although he was in favor of the death penalty, the judge's ruling "provides some kind of closure.''

"I definitely have mixed feelings,'' he said. "I definitely want it over with, but I know what the law is.''

In prior rulings, Goethals punished prosecutors for the violations regarding the use of informants and the failure to exchange evidence with defense attorneys by limiting what evidence they could use in the penalty phase of the trial.

Goethals heard arguments last week from a prosecutor from the Attorney General's Office, which took over the case when the District Attorney's Office was recused, as well as Dekraai's attorneys.

Dekraai's attorney, Assistant Public Defender Scott Sanders, argued that his client cannot trust the county to turn over all favorable evidence, so he could never be sure he'll ever get a fair hearing.

Murphy, however, said that none of the corruption involving the use of confidential informants in the jail precluded Dekraai from getting a fair hearing in the penalty phase of his trial.

Deputy Public Defender Sara Ross asked Goethals to impose ``creative sanctions'' on the prosecution team when Goethals raised the issue of whether he had the constitutional authority to dismiss the death penalty as a punishment for Dekraai.

The allegations of misconduct in the Dekraai case date back to January 2014, when his attorneys filed a 500-plus-page motion alleging widespread misconduct in the use of jailhouse informants to obtain information to help investigators

Sanders argued that the government violated his client's constitutional rights by having informant Fernando Perez put in a cell next to Dekraai to get information from the defendant when he was already represented by an attorney, which is illegal.

Goethals found the placement of Perez was a coincidence based on a nurse's recommendation. Sanders continued to argue last week that it was a conspiracy to violate his client's rights.

Perez's notes to his handlers led prosecutors to get Dekraai's cell wired, and he made what many sources have characterized as insensitive and callous comments about the massacre at the Seal Beach beauty salon.

Prosecutors wanted to use the comments in the death penalty phase of the trial, but Goethals forbade it.

Bethany Webb, the sister of Dekraai victim Laura Webb Elody, repeatedly said she hoped that Goethals would dismiss the death penalty. She said 90 to 95 percent of the victims' families wanted the attorney general to stop pursuing the ultimate punishment for Dekraai.

"We don't want to come here anymore,'' Webb said. "I'm begging the judge to realize how broken this is and to set us free.''

Dekraai's ex-wife, 48-year-old Michelle Marie Fournier, was the first victim he killed on Oct. 12, 2011, at the Salon Meritage at 500 Pacific Coast Highway, where she worked. The couple had been in a bitter child custody dispute.

Also slain in the salon were the shop's owner, 62-year-old Randy Lee Fannin, Elody, 46, Christy Wilson, 47, Victoria Ann Buzzo, 54, Lucia Berniece Kondas, 65, and Michele Dashbach Fast, 47. After leaving the salon, Dekraai gunned down his last victim, 64-year-old David Caouette, as the victim sat in his Range Rover, parked next to the gunman's vehicle.

Hattie Stretz, 77, survived the bloodbath.

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