SANTA ANA, Calif. - California prosecutors committed malpractice and were negligent in their use of a jailhouse snitch in the case of a man convicted of killing his ex-wife and seven others at a Seal Beach hair salon in 2011, the Orange County district attorney concluded in a report released Monday.
District Attorney Todd Spitzer said prosecutors in his office showed signs of engaging in misconduct in the way they handled the case of Scott Dekraai, a former tugboat operator, who is serving life in prison for the county’s largest mass killing.
The review found prosecutors erred in using a longtime snitch to get a tainted confession from Dekraai and did not properly disclose that information to a defense lawyer.
“Prosecutors handling People v. Dekraai violated discovery laws and rulings from the court, trampled defendant rights, and denied the full imposition of justice for the victims and their families,” Spitzer’s office said.
The discovery of the use of the informant by Dekraai’s lawyer, Scott Sanders, unearthed what became known as the “jailhouse informant scandal” that went beyond just the salon shooting case. It ultimately derailed the prosecution of Dekraai as prosecutors were seeking the death penalty.
Courts removed the Orange County district attorney’s office, then headed by Tony Rackauckas, from the case and ruled that the death penalty couldn’t be sought. Dekraai ultimately pleaded guilty and was sentenced to eight life terms with no chance of parole.
Sanders said the report simply blamed two prosecutors no longer with the office but failed to address the pattern of abuse he found in the use of informants by prosecutors and sheriff’s deputies that is now under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice.
“It accurately identifies the miscount by the Dekraai prosecutors and then completely ignores the decades of misconduct involving jailhouse informants,” Sander said. “It’s a great headline grabber, but the problem is that no other prosecutor is identified as doing anything wrong. ... We know this has been going on for decades.”